Startups

XNOR raises $12M for its cloud-free, super-efficient AI

Comment

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Between Microsoft Build and Google I/O, there are probably more people saying “AI” this week than any previous week in history. But the AI those companies deploy tends to live off in a cloud somewhere — XNOR puts it on devices that may not even be capable of an internet connection. The startup has just pulled in $12 million to continue its pursuit of bringing AI to the edge.

I wrote about the company when it spun off of Seattle-based, Paul Allen-backed AI2; its product is essentially a proprietary method of rendering machine learning models in terms of operations that can be performed quickly by nearly any processor. The speed, memory and power savings are huge, enabling devices with bargain-bin CPUs to perform serious tasks like real-time object recognition and tracking that normally take serious processing chops to achieve.

Since its debut it took $2.6 million in seed funding and has now filled up its A round, led by Madrona Venture Group, along with NGP Capital, Autotech Ventures and Catapult Ventures.

“AI has done great,” co-founder Ali Farhadi told me, “but for it to become revolutionary it needs to scale beyond where it is right now.”

The fundamental problem, he said, is that AI is too expensive — both in terms of processing time and in money required.

Nearly all major “AI” products do their magic by means of huge banks of computers in the cloud. You send your image or voice snippet or whatever, it does the processing with a machine learning model hosted in some data center, then sends the results back.

For a lot of stuff, that’s fine. It’s okay if Alexa responds in a second or two, or if your images get enhanced with metadata over a period of hours while you’re not paying attention. But if you need a result not just in a second, but in a hundredth of a second, there’s no time for the cloud. And increasingly, there’s no need.

XNOR’s technique allows things like computer vision and voice recognition to be stored and run on devices with extremely limited processing power and RAM. And we’re talking Raspberry Pi Zero here, not just like an older iPhone.

If you wanted to have a camera or smart home type device in every room of your home, monitoring for voices, responding to commands, sending its video feed in to watch for unauthorized visitors or emergency situations — that constant pipe to the cloud starts getting crowded real fast. Better not to send it at all.

This has the pleasant byproduct of not requiring what might be personal data to some cloud server, where you have to trust that it won’t be stored or used against your will. If the data is processed entirely on the device, it’s never shared with third parties. That’s an increasingly attractive proposition.

Developing a model for edge computing isn’t cheap, though. Although AI developers are multiplying, comparatively few are trying to run on resource-limited devices like old phones or cheap security cameras.

XNOR’s model lets a developer or manufacturer plug in a few basic attributes and get a model pre-trained for their needs.

Say you’re the cheap security camera maker; you need to recognize people and pets and fires, but not cars or boats or plants, you’re using such and such ARM core and camera and you need to render at five frames per second but only have 128 MB of RAM to work with. Ding — here’s your model.

Or say you’re a parking lot company and you need to recognize empty spots, license plates and people lurking suspiciously. You’ve got such and such a setup. Ding — here’s your model.

These AI agents can be dropped into various code bases fairly easily and never need to phone home or have their data audited or updated, they’ll just run like greased lightning on the platform. Farhadi told me they’ve established the most common use cases and devices through research and feedback, and many customers should be able to grab an “off the shelf” model just like that. That’s Phase 1, as he called it, and should be launching this fall.

Phase 2 (in early 2019) will allow for more customization, so for example if your parking lot model becomes a police parking lot model and needs to recognize a specific set of cars and people, or you’re using proprietary hardware not on the list. New models will be able to be trained up on demand.

And Phase 3 is taking models that normally run on cloud infrastructure and adapting and “XNORifying” them for edge deployment. No timeline on that one.

Although the technology lends itself in some ways to the needs of self-driving cars, Farhadi told me they aren’t going after that sector — yet. It’s still essentially in the prototype phase, he said, and creators of autonomous vehicles are currently trying to prove the idea works fundamentally, not trying to optimize and deliver it at lower cost.

Edge-based AI models will surely be increasingly important as the efficiency of algorithms improves, the power of devices rises and the demand for quick-turnaround applications grows. XNOR seems to be among the vanguard in this emerging area of the field, but you can almost certainly expect competition to expand along with the market.

More TechCrunch

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

3 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?