Three years ago, Tang Xiao’ou joked to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology audience that it was his company, SenseTime, that came to mind as soon as people talked about AI.
Today, one of China’s brightest hopes for a world-leading plan for artificial intelligence, SenseTime is preparing to go public for $ 2 billion. In hong kong It may come by the end of the year.
Known for its facial recognition expertise, SenseTime has raised over $ 3 billion from investors such as SoftBank, Alibaba, Tiger Global and Silver Lake, and is the most hyped in China, along with peers Megvii, Yitu and CloudWalk. It is one of the four AI companies out there. ..
All four have grown rapidly with Beijing’s support, are now able to collect and process large amounts of data on Beijing’s vast population, are currently on the list and have the ambition to expand abroad. I’m waiting.
However, all four companies are concerned about the use of their technology and Sanctions from The United States and the United States allegedly supported human rights violations in the western region of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, allegedly denied.
Since then, companies have had to take a cautious path to maintain good relations with their most prominent and most important customer, the Chinese government.
Jeffrey Din, a postdoc at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, said SenseTime was “in trouble.” “Western investors may want them to deny more frankly.[ethnic profiling].. .. .. But this will cause them to lose their business in China. “
A document submitted by the startup prior to the IPO reveals the degree of dependence on Beijing. The smart city business, which includes facial recognition and predictive policing, accounted for 40% of last year’s sales. The five largest customers, accounting for nearly one-third of RMB 3.4 billion ($ 525 million) in sales, are mostly what SenseTime calls “system integrators” to serve city admins. is.
Since 2008, at least 500 Chinese cities have tried to implement so-called smart city technology and are working with private companies such as SenseTime, Alibaba, Hikvision and Huawei to find digital solutions for urban problems.
SenseTime software has been deployed in 119 cities, most of which are in China. In some cities, the system is used to detect people who are not wearing car seat belts, claiming 94% accuracy. You can also find drivers using mobile phones with 86-96% accuracy.
In another prestigious city in southern China with a population of 17 million, SenseTime’s traffic management system recorded traffic violations by mopeds. Police tracked 50,000 such cases, and the reduction in monthly moped abuse was reduced by more than half in just two months. Meanwhile, the number of drivers who chose to wear a helmet increased from less than half to 94 percent.
Megvii, the oldest of the four AI startups, also counts the government as its largest customer. Alibaba and Ant Group-backed companies earned 64% of their revenue from smart city technology last year. When Washington blacklisted the company in February last year, facial recognition technology companies were forced to abandon their listing in Hong Kong.
However, international expansion has been hampered by concerns about China’s influence.For example, British intelligence Push the limits I’m afraid that it could be used for espionage and surveillance as to whether the local government can buy the software.
SenseTime has added offices and customers around the world over the last two years. Southeast Asia, North Asia In the Middle East, reservations for surveillance are also less noticeable.
However, the number of overseas transactions has not been explained in detail, especially since it was blacklisted in 2019.
A long-discussed project to detect fraud and fraud in casinos with Genting, a leisure group that operates casinos in Singapore on Sentosa Island, has yet to bring concrete public information.Abu Dhabi’s research hub, which provides “AI capabilities” to local start-ups, hasn’t announced much Deals Since it was founded in 2019.
Meanwhile, other Chinese tech companies are investing in their AI capabilities, which could hurt SenseTime’s “smart business” enterprise division.
“Unicorns and other major tech companies are increasingly bringing AI into-house,” said William Bao Bean, general partner of Shanghai-based global venture capital firm SOSV. “Most Chinese companies don’t have the habit of paying for software, so many of the clients of companies like SenseTime are government agencies.”
An early SenseTime employee told Financial Times that he had acquired high-tech customers such as TikTok owner ByteDance and CCTV camera manufacturer Hikvision in the early days.
But by 2019, ByteDance was “significantly separated” from SenseTime and agreed to build its own internal team after working with AI facial filters. “It’s fast because you have fast access to your data and you don’t have to pay for SenseTime,” he said.
People near the company admitted that it lost some business, but continued to expand its customer base of more than 2,400.
SenseTime put more emphasis on hardware and sought to offer a wider range of packages to its clients. We want to spend a significant portion of our IPO revenue on research and development. This includes a new AI supercomputing data center near Shanghai, which will be completed in 2022. We are also developing AI chips designed to process AI tasks faster and faster. Efficient.
Another area is software that supports autonomous driving. This is mentioned 68 times in the documentation, compared to only 6 mentions of “face information”.
Again, SenseTime is still in fierce competition, experts say, and the company’s automotive division currently contributes less than 5% of sales.
“Self-driving is a crowded market and SenseTime is entering late. Many dance cards are already filled with Baidu, Pony.ai, WeRide and more,” said TuLe, founder of consultancy Sino Auto Insights. Mr. says. “I don’t think many people will dual-source or abandon their current SenseTime partners.”
However, many investors are encouraged by the government’s support for the company. SenseTime received RMB 352.8 million in 2020 with a government grant. This is a 37% increase over what we received in 2019.
Creating state-of-the-art agenda-setting technology is key to President Xi Jinping’s stated goal of becoming an AI leader by 2030. The success of SenseTime and other AIs, including Megvii, Yitu, and CloudWalk, has a direct impact on their ambitions. The AI sector has not been scrutinized by regulators like other Chinese internet companies are doing this year.
A mainland-based investor with Megvii said: I do not think so. “
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