Kai-Fu Lee’s first Europe bet, WeRide buys a truck startup – TechCrunch

Hello and welcome again to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of current occasions shaping the Chinese tech panorama and what they imply to individuals in the remainder of the world.

Despite the geopolitical headwinds for overseas tech corporations to enter China, many corporations, particularly those who discover a reliable associate, are nonetheless forging forward. For this week’s roundup, I’m together with a dialog I had with Prophesee, a French imaginative and prescient expertise startup, which just lately received funding from Kai-Fu Lee and Xiaomi, together with the same old information digest.

Spotting alternatives in China

Like many corporations engaged on futuristic, cutting-edge tech in Europe, Prophesee was a spinout from college analysis labs. Previously, I lined two such corporations from Sweden: Imint, which improves smartphone video manufacturing by deep studying, and Dirac, an professional in sound optimization.

The three corporations have two issues in frequent: They are all in area of interest fields, and so they have all discovered keen prospects in China.

For Prophesee, they’re manufacturing strains, automakers and smartphone corporations in China searching for breakthroughs in notion expertise, which is able to in flip enhance how their robots reply to the atmosphere. So it’s unsurprising that Xiaomi and Chinese chip-focused funding agency Inno-Chip backed Prophesee in its newest funding spherical, which was led by Sinovation Venture.

The funding measurement was undisclosed however TechCrunch discovered it was within the vary of “tens of million USD.” It was additionally the first funding that Kai-Fu Lee has made by Sinovation in Europe. As Prophesee CEO Luca Verre recalled:

I met Dr. Kai-Fu Lee three years in the past throughout the World Economic Forum … and once I pitched to him about Prophesee, he received very intrigued. And then over the previous three years, really, we saved in contact and final 12 months, given the rising traction we had been having in China, notably within the cell and IoT trade, he determined to leap in. He mentioned okay, it’s now the suitable timing Prophesee turns into huge.

The Paris-based firm wasn’t actively in search of funding, but it surely believed having Chinese strategic buyers might assist it achieve better entry to the advanced market.

Rather than sending information collected by sensors and cameras to computing platforms, Prophesee suits that course of inside a chip (fabricated by Sony) that mimics the human eyes, a expertise that’s constructed upon neuromorphic engineering.

The outdated methodology snaps a assortment of fastened photographs so when information grows in quantity, a super quantity of computing energy is required. In distinction, Prophesee’s sensors, which it describes as “event-based,” solely choose up modifications within the atmosphere simply because the photoreceptors in our eyes and may course of information constantly and rapidly.

Europe has been pioneering neuromorphic computing, however in recent times, Verre noticed a surge in analysis coming from Chinese universities and tech corporations, which reaffirmed his confidence out there’s urge for food.

We see Chinese OEMs (authentic tools producers), notably Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo pushing the usual of high quality of picture high quality to very, very excessive … They are very desirous to undertake new expertise to additional differentiate in a method which is quicker and extra aggressive than Apple. Apple is a firm with an perspective which to me seems extra much like Huawei. So possibly for some expertise, it takes extra time to see the expertise mature and undertake, which is true fairly often however later. So I’m certain that Apple will come at sure level with some merchandise integrating event-based expertise. In truth, we see them transferring. We see them submitting patents within the house. I’m certain that can come, however possibly not the first.

Though China is striving for technological independence, Verre believed Prophesee’s addressable market is giant sufficient — $20 billion by his estimate. Nonetheless, he admitted he’d be “naive to believe Prophesee will be the only one to capture” this chance.

WeTrip purchased a truck firm

One of China’s most valuable robotaxi startups has simply acquired an autonomous trucking firm known as MoonX. The measurement of the deal is undisclosed, however we all know that MoonX raised “tens of millions RMB” 15 months in the past in a Series A spherical.

While WeTrip is concentrated on Level 4 self-driving expertise, it’s also discovering new monetization avenues earlier than its robotaxis can chauffeur individuals at scale. It’s executed so by developing minibusses, and the MoonX acqui-hire, which brings the corporate’s founder and over 50 engineers to WeTrip, will seemingly assist diversify its income pool.

WeTrip and MoonX have deep-rooted relationships. Their respective founders, Tony Han and Yang Qingxiong, labored facet by facet at Jingchi, which was later rebranded to WeTrip. Han co-founded Jingchi and took the helm as CEO in March 2018 whereas Yang was assigned vice chairman of engineering. But Yang quickly stop and began MoonX.

Han, a Baidu veteran, gave Yang a heat homecoming and put him in control of the agency’s analysis institute and its new workplace in Shenzhen, dwelling to MoonX. WeTrip’s sprawling headquarters is nearly an hour’s drive away within the adjoining metropolis of Guangzhou.

AI surveillance large Cloudwalk nears IPO

Cloudwalk belongs to a cohort of Chinese unicorns that flourished by the second half of the 2010s by promoting laptop imaginative and prescient expertise to authorities companies throughout China. Together, Cloudwalk and its rivals SenseTime, Megvii and Yitu had been dubbed the “four AI dragons” for his or her quick ascending valuations and good-looking funding rounds.

Of course, the time period “AI dragon” is now a misnomer as AI software turns into so pervasive throughout industries. Investors quickly realized these upstarts have to diversify income streams past sensible metropolis contracts, and so they’ve been ready anxiously for exits. Finally, right here comes Cloudwalk, which is able to seemingly be the first in its cohort to go public.

Cloudwalk’s software to lift 3.75 billion yuan ($580 million) from an IPO on the Shanghai STAR board was permitted this week, although it might nonetheless be months earlier than it begins buying and selling. The agency’s financials don’t look notably rosy for buyers, with internet loss amounting to 720 million yuan in 2020.

Also within the information

  • Speaking of the torrent of reports in autonomous driving, automobile imaginative and prescient supplier CalmCar mentioned this week that it has raised $150 million in a Series C spherical. Founded by a number of abroad Chinese returnees in 2016, CalmCar makes use of deep studying to develop ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System) utilized in automotive, industrial and surveillance eventualities. German auto components maker ZF led the spherical.
  • Baby garments direct-to-consumer model PatPat mentioned it has raised $510 million from Series C and D rounds. The D2C ecosystem leveraging China’s sturdy provide chains is more and more gaining curiosity from enterprise capitalists. Brands like Shein, PatPat, Cider and Outer have all secured fundings from established VCs. Founded by three Carnegie Mellon grads, PatPat counts IDG Capital, General Atlantic, DST Global, GGV Capital, SIG China and Sequoia China amongst its buyers.

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