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Apple reportedly acquires AI startup Silk Labs

Apple is broadening its reach into artificial intelligence with the acquisition of Silk Labs, a startup focused on the development of on-device AI technology, according to a report Tuesday.

Silk

Silk security camera and smart home hub.


Citing a person familiar with the matter, The Information reports Apple quietly snapped up Silk earlier this year.

Details of the acquisition are unknown, though the report estimates the deal was a trivial investment for Apple. Silk had about a dozen employees at the time of the purchase, while startup financing firm PitchBook estimates the company raised approximately $4 million in funding.

Based in San Mateo, Calif., Silk Labs was founded by three engineers who previously worked on Firefox OS, Mozilla's failed attempt to create a competing mobile operating system to iOS and Android. Former Mozilla CTO Andreas Gal and former Mozilla platform engineer Chris Jones teamed up with Michael Vines, who at one point served as Qualcomm Innovation Center's senior director of technology, to form Silk Labs in 2015.

According to the report, Silk emerged from stealth in 2016 as a startup focused on building an operating system "infused with AI" and designed to be a platform for internet of things hardware.

"Internet of things devices are not very smart — the word smart is totally overloaded," Gal said in an interview cited by the report. "They have very simplistic software on them."

Silk's website provides a brief overview of the company's "video and audio intelligence," as well as use cases of supported edge computing ranging from home security to retail analytics and building surveillance. The firm's technology is or was capable of detecting people, faces, objects and audio signals.

Silk is perhaps best known for a defunct Kickstarter project called Sense, a security camera and smart home hub capable of recognizing users and adjusting connected devices based on shared preferences. Unlike other AI-equipped smart home products, Sense accomplished all computational processing on-device — and stored data like recorded video locally — to ensure user privacy.

While the project achieved successful funding, Silk cancelled production plans in June 2016. Gal in a blog post said his company would open-source the platform and port the software to smartphones, TechHive reported at the time.

What Apple has planned for Silk is unknown, though both companies have in the past expressed interest in building AI systems that operate locally instead of in the cloud. Such solutions bypass controversial data collection policies used by companies like Amazon and Google, both of which market first-party AI technology in Alexa and Google Assistant, respectively.