SenseTime has raised $600 million to develop its artificial intelligence platform at a time when China is targeting global leadership in the field by 2025.
The series-C round of funding will give impetus to the buildout of SenseTime’s AI platform which includes facial and image recognition, autonomous driving, medical imaging and deep learning hardware optimisation.
“The funding will also help us widen the scope for more industrial application of AI, thus increasing the value of SenseTime’s global ecosystem,” Li Xu, SenseTime's co-founder and chief executive officer, said in a statement on Monday.
Such industrial applications dovetail with China’s initiative to upgrade its manufacturing capability by embracing innovative technologies. The US has said the policy, dubbed “Made in China 2025”, distorts the market in favour of supported companies. Next generation information technologies is one of ten targeted sectors.
Alibaba is leading this round of funding and other participants include Singapore’s wealth fund Temasek and Chinese consumer electronics retailer Suning.
"SenseTime is doing pioneering work in artificial intelligence. We are especially impressed by their R&D capabilities in deep learning and visual computing,” said Joe Tsai, executive vice chairman of Alibaba.
Last year, FinanceAsia named SenseTime as one of its top 10 disruptive start-ups in the region. In November, co-founder Xu Bing told FinanceAsia of his vision of establishing SenseTime as the equivalent in artifical intelligence to the State Grid.
The company is one of the country’s most valuable unicorns and said in the statement it has sets a record for venture capital funding in the AI sector.
Since its inception in 2014, SenseTime has raised capital from Temasek, Qualcomm, IDG Captial and CDH Investments. The company counts China Mobile, Wanda, HNA Group and Huawei among its customers and partners.
SenseTime is competing head-to-head with the likes of Google and Facebook in deep learning technologies.
SenseTime’s high-performance deep learning supercomputing platform is one of China’s largest, boasting more than 8,000 GPUs (graphic processing units). It is able to support building models with hundreds of billions of parameters, categorising hundreds of millions of pieces of data and training billions of images.
The Chinese company entered into partnership with Japanese automaker Honda earlier this year to develop self-driving cars.
In 2017, SenseTime announced a series of significant strategic partnerships in China and abroad.
It is collaborating with Qualcomm on increasing the intelligence of smartphones and other devices.
Working with Suning, it is leveraging facial recognition for check-out free shopping as well as customer big data analysis.
In March, it partnered with several large Chinese state-owned enterprises based in Shanghai such as the INESA Group and Lingang Group, following on from its deal with the municipal government of Shanghai in 2017 to help the city on multiple inititiatives including smart city, smart traffic, autonomous driving, and smart finance.
The company has also snapped up talent from the financial sector, luring Bocom International ECM head Esther Wong last month.