Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Saturday, January 16, 2021
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Scale AI Targets App Development Bottlenecks 

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Scale AI Inc, a fast-growing provider of training and validation data for AI applications, disclosed a successful mid-stage funding round this week along with its acquisition of another AI startup, illustrating how automation technologies are coalescing around real-world applications.

The startup’s $155 million funding round announced on Tuesday (Dec. 1) was led by Tiger Global. Scale AI also unveiled a deal to buy Helia, a startup founded by Tesla veterans with a focus on computer vision and neural network training infrastructure.

Launched in 2016 by Alexandr Wang, San Francisco-based Scale AI now claims a market valuation of $3.5 billion. The data labeling operation has since morphed into AI application infrastructure provider, including image annotation APIs for robotics and other automation applications.

The four-year-old startup and its investors are betting Scale AI can help accelerate AI development by providing labeled training data and other application infrastructure. “What’s holding us back… is lack of infrastructure,” Wang noted in a blog post announcing the funding round and acquisition. “While many organizations are adopting AI, they are forced to build their technology stack from scratch, significantly slowing progress.”

Scale AI’s development platform focuses on large annotated data sets, what Wang describes as “the foundational layer that fuels all machine learning models.” Developers then send data via Scale AI’s API to receive training data used to build production-grade AI algorithms.

Its image annotation, Lidar and video APIs are used to guide drones and robots. Early customers include Airbnb, Lyft, Nvidia and Toyota.

The startup launched its collaboration platform in August aimed at helping teams managed AI development life cycles. The Nucleus platform allows AI developers to visualize and organize data sets, test models and share data and test results.

Serving as “mission control” for data sets used in training, Wang said its latest financing would help support upcoming Nucleus upgrades. Those include support for more data types and new AI development features. The platform currently integrates via API with Jupyter notebooks used for AI development. The API also connects scripts and data pipelines.

Wang, Scale AI’s 23-year-old CEO, said the acquisition of Helia gives its real-time video expertise, spanning core algorithm development to new AI infrastructure components. The three-person operation launched last year raised about $3 million in seed funding from Silicon Valley investors before being acquired by Scale AI.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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