Intel buys Irish computer vision startup Movidius in its sixth major buyout of the year

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Intel extended its shopping spree this week by announcing the acquisition of Movidius, a company developing computer vision processing technology for autonomous drones.

“Our leading VPU (Vision Processing Unit) platform for on-device vision processing combined with Intel’s industry leading depth sensing solution is a winning combination for autonomous machines that can see in 3D, understand their surroundings and navigate accordingly,” wrote Movidius CEO Remi El-Ouaazane in a blog post

“When computers can see, they can become autonomous and that’s just the beginning.” he continued, adding that, “We’re on the cusp of big breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. In the years ahead, we’ll see new types of autonomous machines with more advanced capabilities as we make progress on one of the most difficult challenges of AI: getting our devices not just to see, but also to think.”

The deal brings an exit to a company some predicted would be Ireland’s first unicorn. Movidius had raised $86.5 million in five rounds according to Crunchbase, last announcing a $40 million Series E back in April 2015. Their clientele – big names like Google, Lenovo, FLIR and DJI – look to the company to supply them solutions for different products like AR/VR headsets, security cameras and of course drones.

The computer vision market could be worth $33.3 billion by 2019 according to a 2015 Tractica study, and it wouldn’t be surprising to find more recent forecasts estimating higher values. Intel wants to integrate Movidius’ tech into RealSense, its own approach to computer vision and perceptual computing — the ability of a computer to recognize what’s going on in its immediate vicinity. That latter field has several subsectors and applications, including most importantly collision avoidance in autonomous (and non-autonomous but smart) cars and drones. This latest buy fits into a chain of acquisitions by Intel related to machine learning and deep learning. Those include San Diego’s deep learning startup Nervana for a reported $350 million, computer vision company Itseez, Italian system-on-a-chip (SoC) startup YOGITECH, and Israeli 360° visualization startup Replay Technologies for $170 million.

Intel Senior VP of New Technologies Group Josh Walden and Movidius CEO Rami El-Ouazzane
Intel Senior VP of New Technologies Group Josh Walden and Movidius CEO Rami El-Ouazzane

“With Movidius, Intel gains low-power, high-performance SoC platforms for accelerating computer vision applications. Additionally, this acquisition brings algorithms tuned for deep learning, depth processing, navigation and mapping, and natural interactions, as well as broad expertise in embedded computer vision and machine intelligence,” Josh Walden, Senior VP and GM of Intel’s New Technology Group, wrote in his own blog post.

“Specifically, we will look to deploy the technology across our efforts in augmented, virtual and merged reality (AR/VR/MR), drones, robotics, digital security cameras and beyond. Movidius’ market-leading family of computer vision SoCs complements Intel’s RealSense™ offerings in addition to our broader IP and product roadmap.”

Walden tried to explain Intel’s maneuvers as part of a goal “to build a suite of capabilities that open an entirely new world of possibilities: from recognizing objects, to understanding scenes; from authentication to tracking and navigating.”

“We’re entering an era where devices must be smart and connected. When a device is capable of understanding and responding to its environment, entirely new and unprecedented solutions present themselves.”

Movidius maintains its offices in Ireland, Romania, China and San Mateo, California.

The terms of the deal – which is still undergoing but is expected to be finalized by the end of the year – were not disclosed at this time.

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