Feb 27, 2019/EqualOcean- Horizon Robotics (地平线机器人), a leading maker of artificial intelligence chips in China, announced that it has completed around USD 600 million in Series B funding round which valued the company at USD 3 billion. The transaction was led by SK China, SK Hynix and a number of Chinese Tier 1 automakers (included affiliated fund), followed by Fan Hai Capital (泛海投资), CMBC Capital (民银资本), CSOBOR Fund (CSOBOR基金) and Oceanpine Capital (海松资本). Its existing investors Morningside Venture Capital (晨兴资本), Hillhouse Capital (高瓴资本), V Fund (云晖资本) and Linear Venture (线性资本) followed in this new round of funding.
Its star backers include Sinovation Ventures, and Yuri Milner, the founder of Digital Sky Technologies who participated in investments in Facebook, Twitter, and Xiaomi.
It is a record-setting amount in the autonomous driving industry since Pony.AI raised an A+ round funding of USD 200 million in July 2018. Horizon Robotics was said to raise up to USD 1 billion in the new funding round which will push the company's valuation up from USD 3 billion to USD 4 billion in Nov 2018, as we reported before. The Intel-backed company once claimed the lead investor shall be an Intel-level company, while insist on releasing more details when the announcement is ready in an interview (see more in this article).
Another Chinese AI Chip company Cambricon Technology (寒武纪科技) is valued at around USD 2.5 billion after its latest series B round of funding.
Horizon inked an agreement with SK Telecom, South Korea's largest telecom operator, on promoting cooperation in the field of autonomous driving at CES 2019.
Horizon's terminal computing focuses on two scenarios. One is for smart vehicles which will become a super terminal, and the other is for IoT (Internet of Thing) devices, mainly cameras. Under smart retail scenarios, Horizon technology embedded-camera can substitute human to monitor store situation, which can thus cut cost and improve efficiency for the retail industry. For now, bases of industrial division and cooperation have not been established yet, Horizon pursues to leverage others with its chips designed for camera and smart vehicles as an underlying computing platform, according to YU Kai (余凯), the company's CEO and founder at China Entrepreneurs Forum.
YU also implied that the company's revenue in 2018 has reached more than CNY 100 million (USD 15 million) since the company released Gauss-architecture-based processor Sunrise 1.0 and Journey 1.0 in December 2017, growing 10 times compared to 2017. 2019 is the starting year of commercialization, according to iyiou.com.
The company wants to start from software and fit them in specific scenarios, which will develop for future technology needs. For instance, service robots are going to equip with image recognition, face recognition, gesture recognition, and voice microphone signaling processing, which can be processed in the front-end chip. It is a disruptive way of computing for all of the voice recognition are conducted in the cloud, which can be questionable out of privacy concerns. Horizon aims to define the future AI computing way in smart vehicles, robots, and cameras, just like Intel, one of its backers, has defined Personal Computers.
To carve a position for itself as a company that understands the smart retail and autonomous driving in contemporary life, Horizon Robotics did find suitable vertical scenarios. It can be hard for startups to find a promising business model under the current AI development stage. For instance, Horizon focuses on L2-L4 autonomous driving. its Journey 1.0 is applicable to L2 ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System) and its Matrix 1.0 provides L3 AD solution and L4 AD solution for defined areas with multi-sensor fusion technology. Horizon also provides algorithms, hardware, software for retail enterprises with its Sunrise chip.
Founded in 2015, the company is growing at a stunning rate. We’ve introduced the company’s strategy of “Android of Robotics” and Embedded AI Processor and Processor+ Algorithm+ Cloud Platform, its vision across many AI scenarios from smart city, smart retail and the most eye-catching one, autonomous driving.
Horizon Robotics has branches in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing, its employees have reached 400 people in 2018. The company has expanded in Silicon Valley now. Horizon Robotics has a luxury team, as well. Ph.D. YU Kai (余凯), a former Head of Baidu Institute of Deep Learning and an early developer of Baidu’s autonomous driving program, laid out the largest scale deep learning accelerator based on FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array). Ph.D. HUANG Chang (黄畅), Co-Founder and Vice President of Algorithm of Horizon Robotics, has over 4,400 citations and owns 6 US patents. The face recognition system he developed was adopted by a wide range of digital cameras (80% of the market) and image management applications including Apple’s iPhoto. Ph.D. WU Qiang (吴强), VP Of Engineering at Horizon Robotics, formerly an engineering lead at Facebook, working on deep learning infrastructure/platform and very large-scale neural network training and inference.
Technology itself is important in investing in an AI target, but whether the startup has the ability to combine engineering and technology together is utmost important. Engineering experts can see a huge gap between academic thesis and practical situations, and solve them. It is more cost-effective if the startup can avoid confronting hurdles which can be avoided at the very first step.