In brief: Apple is on a spending spree for AI startups, and the latest is a Seattle-based startup that makes on-device machine learning tools that literally sip power and cost very little to manufacture.
Apple's latest acquisition is Xnor.ai, a Seattle-based startup that focuses on low-power machine learning tools. According to GeekWire, the deal is valued at around $200 million and includes an agreement to move Xnor.ai employees to Apple's office space in Seattle.
There is no official confirmation at this point other than a generic statement offered to CNBC, where an Apple spokesperson says the company "buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."
It's possible the Cupertino giant is interested in Xnor.ai's machine learning and image recognition tools that can run locally as opposed to cloud-based solutions. The main benefits touted are reduced costs and enhanced privacy, as they don't need an internet connection, not to mention they can run on small solar cells.
This would fit perfectly into Apple's Core ML 3 efforts to give iOS and macOS developers machine learning tools for edge computing scenarios that require things like object and sound detection. Xnor.ai is a relatively new company, but also a spin-off of the Allen Institute for AI that has raised around $14.6 million since 2017 from Seattle's Madrona Venture Group.
While the Xnor.ai name might not ring a bell for many, the company used to provide Wyze's on-device people detection functionality for its smart cameras until recently, when the latter announced a termination of their agreement.
Apple made a number of AI-related acquisitions over the last few years, such as Silk Labs, Turi, PullString, and Drive.ai, not to mention poaching former Google executive John Giannandrea to drive its AI and machine learning strategy.
Others like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook are also racing to buy startups and build both cloud-based and on-device AI solutions. According to IDC, companies spent $37.5 billion in 2019, and are on track to spend almost $98 billion by 2023 to develop AI tech that could sip as much as 10 percent of the world's electricity. Still, Apple seems to have the greatest appetite for AI startups, and it doesn't show any signs of slowing down.