Roughly a year ago, Latent AI, a now three-year-old, Menlo Park, California-based startup, pitched a handful of investors during TechCrunch’s Battlefield competition. It didn’t win that contest, but that hasn’t kept it from winning the interest of investors elsewhere. It just closed on $19 million in Series A funding in a round co-led by Future Ventures and Blackhorn Ventures, with participation from Booz Allen, Lockheed Martin, 40 North Ventures, and Autotech Ventures. The company has now raised $22.5 million altogether.
Steve Jurvetson, the veteran investor and co-founder of Future Ventures, says of possible applications to think of “face-detection algorithms running locally within security cameras or appliances, or Siri-like voice interfaces working instantly,” even when there’s no network connectivity.
Certainly, there’s a growing market for the kind of tech that Latent AI is developing. Indeed, though in an interview earlier today, co-founder and CEO Jags Kandasamy declined to delve into specifics, he suggested that the U.S. government is already a customer, thanks in part to strategic investors like Booz Allen. (In a press release last month about Booz Allen’s investment in Latent AI, an SVP at the government services agency noted that the “ability to collect, analyze and quickly act on data is at the core” of the U.S.’s national defense strategy.)
Another strategic investor, Lockheed Martin, is very focused on finding ways that AI technologies can help the U.S. military improve on situational awareness across land, sea, air, space, cyber and electromagnetic spectrum domains, so it’s easy to appreciate its attraction to the startup.
Kandasamy also talked this afternoon about an unnamed steel manufacturer that it is using Latent AI’s tech in its Google Glass-like augmented reality goggles.
Of course, given that the world is now rife with data-collecting devices and that there’s an enormous interest in making that data actionable without having to send it back and forth to a distant cloud, there are many other companies and projects with the same objective as Latent AI. Among them are open-source tools like TensorFlow, hardware vendors like Xilinx and rival startups like OctoML and Deeplite.
Kandasamy insists that all fall short in some way. Of TensorFlow, he says that developers have only community support when it comes to production deployment. Of the chipmakers of the world, they’re focused on their own hardware and not vertically integrated. And what of those rivals? They’re either focused on compression or compiling and not both, says Kandasamy.
Either way, Latent AI has the kind of backstory that investors like. After Kandasamy, a serial entrepreneur, sold his last startup to Analog Devices, he headed to SRI International in 2018 as an entrepreneur-in-residence. There, he was quickly wowed by tech being developed by Sek Chai, who was the research institution’s technical director for nearly a decade and who specialized in low-power, high-performance computing, computer vision and machine learning. Soon after, Kandasamy and Chai formed Latent AI and began smoothing out some of the kinks.
Now, with fresh funding and a small but growing customer base that pays Latent AI on a subscription basis to access its tools (then deploy them on premises), the question is whether the 15-person outfit is coming along far enough, fast enough, to get ahead of its current and future rivals.
Jurvetson plainly thinks it’s well positioned. He says he has been an advisory board member with SRI International for more than a decade and seen a good many technologies like Siri develop and then spin out of the organization.
“This is the only one I have invested in,” he says.