Baidu Ventures leads $10m funding round in US-based AI startup Lightelligence

Baidu Ventures Lightelligence
A employee uses his mobile phone as he walks past the company logo of Baidu at its headquarters in Beijing, August 5, 2010. REUTERS/Barry Huang/File Photo

Baidu Ventures, the artificial intelligence-focused venture capital unit of Chinese internet search firm Baidu Inc, led a group of top venture capital investors and industry technologists in the $10-million seed round financing in US-based startup Lightelligence.

In a press statement, the Boston-based startup said it has raised a $10-million seed financing round led by Baidu Ventures and joined by a group of US semiconductor executives to build nano-photonics based next generational artificial intelligence hardware.

The company said it is developing nano-photonics based technology to accelerate artificial intelligence computation and more broadly information processing by leveraging the power of light – namely, ultra-low latency, high throughput, and extremely high power efficiency.

The technology was first developed by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Lightelligence is a spinoff that was established to commercialize that research.

“What makes the technology unique is the implementation of AI computing on a novel architecture based on photonic circuit, rather than electronic circuit,” the company said.

Lightelligence said its technology has “superior performance” over competitors in many areas. For cloud computing, the chip acts as a co-processor for CPUs to “accelerate deep learning training and inference.” The company is also looking at applications for edge computing.

The AI firm said it will license the technology exclusively from MIT Technology Licensing Office. The patents were filed when the founding team worked as researchers at MIT. The patents outline the foundation of the technology and cover the fundamental principle, component design, system design, and algorithms.

Baidu Ventures’ investment in Lightelligence comes as it reached the first close of its second RMB fund at $317 million, raising its total assets under management at around Rmb3 billion ($476 million).

Baidu created the venture capital unit in September 2016 with a $200 million fund to invest in AI projects. As an independent fund, the firm focuses on AI and data-enabled companies, as well as broadly transformative and disruptive ideas.

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