Apple has acquired a startup that specializes in advanced artificial intelligence and computer vision technology that can help the iPhone maker improve its own AI for a range of apps and services.
Cupertino, California-based tech giant acquired Barcelona-based Vilynx earlier this year, according to people familiar with the business. Vilynx developed technology that uses AI to analyze the visual, audio, and textual content of a video to understand what the video is showing. This technology was used to tag the video and make it searchable.
The deal was closed for about $ 50 million (about 368 million rupees), said people who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak about the transaction.
“Apple buys smaller tech companies from time to time and we generally don’t discuss our purpose or our plans,” the company said in a statement.
Vilynx applied its technology to software used by search and recommendation engine companies for video and other media. On its now defunct website, the startup pointed out the ability of its system to not only recognize elements, but also to understand them.
“Recognition recognizes Michael Jordan’s face,” says the website. “Understanding is knowing that it’s Michael Jordan, the former NBA basketball player who played for the Chicago Bulls and went to the University of North Carolina.”
Apple could potentially apply this technology to the company’s digital assistant, Siri, and its search. It can also be used in the company’s Photos app to make videos more searchable in a similar way that users can find photos by looking for items in the photos. Apple could also potentially apply it to a recommendation engine for its TV and news apps to bring more relevant content to users.
Approximately 50 of the company’s engineers and data scientists remain with Apple, including Vilynx co-founder and chief technology officer, Elisenda Bou-Balust.
Apple keeps Vilynx’s Barcelona office and intends to make it one of the most important research and development centers for artificial intelligence in Europe. Apple has started hiring engineers for the office. Apple also has AI engineers in Europe in Cambridge, UK, Cork, Ireland, Munich and Zurich.
The deal complements a growing list of AI companies Apple has bought over the past few years. In 2020, Apple also acquired Xnor.ai, Inductiv, and Voysis to boost its artificial intelligence efforts.
Apple launched Siri in 2011 and has since extended AI to its software, including the camera and photo apps, optimizing battery life, and facial and handwriting recognition. Although the company has made strides in improving machine learning technology, the Siri voice assistant is still considered to be inferior to Alphabet’s rivals Google and Amazon.
Apple’s recent AI-related deals, increased public exposure of the machine learning group, the hiring of new researchers, and the appointment of former Google executive John Giannandrea signal the company’s efforts to make significant improvements.
© 2020 Bloomberg LP
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