HK-based SenseTime to challenge US tech giants

October 24, 2017 13:43
Shang Hai-long (right), SenseTime managing director, and Keith Kressin (left), senior vice president, product management, Qualcomm Technologies, signed the strategic collaboration agreement. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong-based technology firm SenseTime Group has announced a tie-up with Qualcomm Technologies Inc., a unit of Qualcomm Inc., to collaborate on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for future mobile and internet of things (IoT) products.

China will outsmart the US in AI technology, and China’s AI firms will be on a par with US tech giants, said Shang Hai-long, SenseTime managing director based in Hong Kong.

Founded in 2014, SenseTime has made a name for itself in computer vision and deep learning, a subset of machine learning technology in AI for smartphones, IoT devices, automotive technology and robotics. It is also the city’s first high-tech “unicorn” — a startup valued at U$1 billion or more.

The strategic collaboration will advance on-device intelligence by leveraging SenseTime’s algorithm and Qualcomm Technologies' chipset, boosting the application of AI technology in markets worldwide.

SenseTime previously developed its own AI chip for smartphone functionality, which has been used in smartphones from Chinese brands such as Xiaomi and Vivo.

The company is making an effort to popularize AI technology. “The market believes AI technology is still far from ready to apply to smartphones. We aim to make it happen,” Shang said.

The technology sector has been led by business model innovation in recent years, but Shang believes that the sector will transform fundamentally in the future. “High-tech innovation and science talent resources will become the dominant factors in competition,” he said.

SenseTime has congregated the top-tier scientists and experts in computer vision and deep learning. There are about 120 professionals with PhD in the research and development team and 20 more will be joining soon, according to Shang, adding that Professor Tang Xiao-ou, co-founder of SenseTime Group, has over 20 years of experience developing AI technology.

Shang told the Hong Kong Economic Journal that China is fast catching up with the US in AI technology. “China now publishes more journal articles on AI than the US, and SenseTime accounted for one-fourth of the journal articles published.”

Leading US tech companies formed the "Partnership on AI" in 2016, with founding members including Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft. “Why are they vigilant all of a sudden? Because they know that the country is losing its advantage in AI technology.”

Shang said that with a rich portfolio of intellectual property, SenseTime is capable of competing on a global scale with foreign tech giants.

He said competitive pricing is the biggest advantage for SenseTime.

“Take the autonomous driving system as an example. Normal vehicles can be converted to a driverless car by installing a radar sensor unit. Other AI tech firms would sell the radar unit for around 800,000 yuan [US$120,000], which is ridiculous as the vehicle may just be worth less than 200,000 yuan," Shang said.

"For SenseTime, we can achieve the desired result by applying our AI technology to a normal camera, for instance, and we sell it for 400 yuan [US$60].”

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 24

Translation by Ben Ng

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong Economic Journal