Bristol-based AI startup Graphcore secures $30 million in Series-A funding for autonomous car applications with major backing from Samsung — a company that also provides government security solutions.
Riding on the recent trend of acquiring startups that are advancing Artificial Intelligence technologies, Samsung has entered the playing field through a stake in Graphcore Ltd.
Graphcore completed $30 million in funding through the backing of Samsung Catalyst Fund, Robert Bosch GmbH, Amadeus Capital Partners, and C4 Ventures, among other backers.
The AI-based machine learning company will bring its IPU (Intelligent Processing Unit) system to market in 2017. The IPU chips will be used for consumer applications in autonomous cars, collaborative robots, and intelligent mobile devices.
Graphcore’s website describes the IPU as a completely new type of processor that has been optimized to work efficiently on the extremely complex high-dimensional models that machine intelligence requires.
“Like a human brain, the IPU holds the complete machine learning model inside the processor and has over 100x more memory bandwidth than other solutions.”
According to Ekaterina Almasque, Managing Director at Samsung Catalyst Fund in Europe, “[Graphcore] closes the gap between the level of intelligence we want to see on edge devices and compute limitations of existing hardware architectures. At Samsung Catalyst Fund, we invest in disruptive companies in this space, and believe tremendous value will be created in the next 10 years by artificial intelligence applications.”
Samsung’s foray into AI and autonomous vehicles
According to readwrite, “Samsung has shown no interest in building an autonomous vehicle, despite the frequent rumors of its main mobile rival Apple building an all-electric, autonomous car.”
If this is true, then why did Samsung invest in an AI company that aims to apply its technology to autonomous vehicles?
Again, as readwrite explained last month, “Samsung has plans to supply automotive and tech firms with self-driving chips, electric batteries, and other components that may become commonplace in the driverless future.”
This year, Samsung invested in self-driving car tech startup, Quanergy, as well as Chinese automaker and rechargeable batteries firm, BYD Company LTD, so while Samsung may not be developing a driver-less car on its own, it’s certainly investing in a lot of companies that can produce the same results.
According to recent speculation on Connected Car Tech News, “Samsung has created an in-house, dedicated team to manufacture processor chips to power self-driving cars. The company has long been manufacturing their own processors and the devices that they power, but this indicates that Samsung may be expanding its expertise to the fast-growing, but nascent, market of autonomous cars.”
While it seems that Bosch GmbH may be the most interested in Graphcore’s technology for autonomous vehicles, Graphcore’s CEO Nigel Toon told CNBC where Samsung’s interests lie.
“We have Bosch as a strategic investor, we have Samsung as an investor and Bosch is interested in autonomous vehicles and the next generation of transportation, while Samsung is interested in missing word edge of network devices.”
Is Samsung’s motivation simply to take-on tech giants like Intel and Nvidia, or could there be other applications, such as security for governments and enterprises in store?
Samsung’s investment into Graphcore may have given credence to the speculation that it is interested in autonomous vehicles, but Samsung has always been in the business of automobiles, only not in the way most people are aware.
Samsung’s certified government security solutions, weapons technologies
Until 2014, Samsung had a holding stake in Samsung Techwin, which developed “surveillance, aeronautics, optoelectronics, automations, and weapons technology” for the Korean Army.
Nowadays, apart from building consumer electronics, Samsung has shifted from building weapons to supplying governments and enterprises with security solutions through its defense-grade security platform, Samsung Knox. Samsung Knox supplies certified government security solutions for the US, China, and France.
According to the Samsung Knox website, “Samsung manufactures and configures its devices in its own factories, and has designed them so that all critical security mechanisms are anchored from the device chipset.”
By backing Graphcore, Samsung can now theoretically use the startup’s IPUs to beef-up its technology for its security solutions for governments, although this is just speculation at this point.
While Graphcore advertises that its IPU technology will be used for consumer purposes, the Bristol startup does list “intelligent mobile devices” as one of its applications, and that could mean broader implications for collaborations between Samsung Knox, Graphcore, and government agencies.
Two years ago this month, Samsung’s Galaxy devices were approved by the US National Security Agency (NSA), and five Samsung mobile devices were also approved for “sensitive but unclassified use” by the Department of Defense.
Earlier this month, Samsung had to recall every single Galaxy Note 7 that was sold (about 1 million units) due to some 150 documented cases of these phones catching fire while charging.
Others Backing Graphcore
Bosch GmbH specializes in Mobility Solutions
Apart from major funding from Samsung, Bosch GmbH made a significant contribution to Graphcore’s funding, and Bosch is a VC that specializes in mobility solutions.
“The Mobility Solutions segment offers gasoline systems, diesel systems, chassis systems control products, electrical drives, starter motors and generators, car multimedia products, automotive electronics, and automotive aftermarket and steering products,” according to Bloomberg.
Seeing how Graphcore is specifically looking to create applications in autonomous, driver-less cars, funding from Bosch falls right in line with the VC’s interests.
Amadeus Capital and C4 Ventures looking to cash-in on Machine Learning
For Amadeus Capital, investing in Graphcore was the next logical step on its path to discovering and funding the next big market in technology.
“We have the imagination to see where new businesses can be created and the technical insight, operational experience and global network to help entrepreneurs make their vision a reality,” boasts Amadeus’s website.
Hermann Hauser, co-founder at Amadeus Capital Partners and a renowned technology entrepreneur, said, “I have worked with Nigel and Simon before in their previous companies where they achieved over $1bn in successful exits for their investors. The team they have assembled is second to none. Machine learning is becoming a major market and Graphcore has the technology to lead this next wave of computing.”
Likewise, Graphcore’s other VC-backers C4 Ventures, Draper Esprit plc, Foundation Capital, and Pitango Venture Capital are always on the lookout for companies that disrupt and challenge the status quo, which Graphcore is certainly doing.