China's SenseTime Group Ltd, which provides facial recognition systems, is now the world's most valuable artificial intelligence (AI) startup with a valuation of $3 billion, according to a Bloomberg report.
The three-year-old firm said in a statement that it had raised $600 million led by Chinese conglomerate Alibaba Group Holding Ltd in a Series C round. Singaporean state investment firm Temasek Holdings and retailer Suning.com also participated.
The privately-held SenseTime did not disclose the value of the individual investments but claimed that Alibaba had asked for the biggest stake.
The Bloomberg report stated that the fresh infusion that had helped the SenseTime, which is backed by US chipmaker Qualcomm, double its valuation in just a few months. It had raised a Series B round of $410 million in its Series B round last July,
SenseTime software for face, text and object recognition is built into more than 100 million mobile devices and the firm counts chipmaker Nvidia and smartphone maker Xiaomi, which has a big presence in India, among its clients. This essentially means that if any person has been photographed by a Chinese-made phone of walked the streets of a Chinese city, then his/her face could well be stored in SenseTime's database.
SenseTime is also reportedly working on a service callled Viper which will be able to crunch facial recogniition data from thousands of cameras deployed in a city and help in mass surveillance.
The startup has said that the fresh capital will help it expand research and product development in fields such as augmented reality (AR) and autonomous driving.
“We’re going to explore several new strategic directions and that’s why we shall spend more money on building infrastructure,” SenseTime co-founder Xu Li said. “For the past three years the average revenue growth has been 400%.”
SenseTime said that it had turned profitable in 2017 and wanted to expand its staff to 2,000 employees by the end of this year.
Bloomberg quoted people familiar with the development as saying that SenseTime is expected to raise more money soon with an aim of reaching a valuation of $4.5 billion.
SenseTime has partnerships with overseas enterprises across security, fintech, automobile, retail, smartphone, mobile Internet and robotics.
The funding boost for SenseTime will also help put it at the forefront of China's stated aim of making AI a driver of economic expansion by 2020.
For Alibaba, the investment represents another bet on AI.
The Jack Ma-led conglomerate has been competing with Chinese rivals such as Tencent Holdings and Baidu to develop an AI that can help improve targeted advertisements, self-driving cars and social media feeds.