Bots in factories. AI in agriculture. Racing for the electric car.

AI for everything


Is it too soon to call a peak on artificial intelligence? 

The “AI for X” trend is still producing early-stage startups at a fast clip, but deals and funding to early-stage companies peaked in mid-2018 (CB Insights clients can see details on the hundreds of seed/angel and Series A deals in this search). 

Another possible sign of the AI trend sloping toward maturity: applications are getting … extremely niche, is one way to put it. 

We recently came across a seed financing in May to a company using machine learning algorithms for “fishmeal inventory management.” A month later, a Series A from New Enterprise Associates and others went to a company using computer vision and smart cameras for managing fish farms.

Sure, fish farming is a big industry. But we’ve also seen AI for horse care and racing, AI for roti making, and AI for bull matchmaking

Is this hyper-granularity a sign the market is close to nearing its frothy top?  

It’s kind of a risk-free cheap trick to sound smart by calling the top to any market. Someone screaming "12 o’clock!" will be right twice a day, and similarly anyone loudly calling a peak or saying a so-called bubble is popping will have some chance to be right (and be annoying and patronizing about it afterward, if they are lucky). 

For myself, I won't be calling the peak until I see AI applied to something that should definitely be left to humans — like, I dunno, sex education or something.

Oh, wait.

Put it all together

The fourth industrial revolution is upon us. Already there are a handful of "lights-out" factories, run completely by robots (and monitored by tech staff).

So what does the future of factories hold?

From product R&D to assembly to supply chain management, our deep-dive looks at how technology is changing every step of the manufacturing process.

 AI bullish on agriculture

Agrochemical giants are facing a competitive threat from smart farming equipment manufacturers.

New biotech AI cos are integrating into every part of the farming supply chain, from providing seed treatments to connecting buyers and sellers.

We break down how AI is changing the $5T agriculture industry, generating new revenue streams, and opening up new partnership opportunities. Clients can read the full report here.

Racers, on your marks

Electric vehicles still account for a small percentage of cars on the road. But with technical capabilities improving, production costs decreasing, and a global demand for sustainable solutions, that could soon change.

EV sales are growing quickly, and the market is becoming more competitive. We dive into the race for the electric car, including the state of the industry, major players, challenges, and more. Check it out here.

 Light it up

Cannabis investment is on track to have a record-breaking year. Startups in the space raised $2.6B in equity funding in 2018, and they've already raised $1.6B in 2019.

We take a look at the most active investors in the space. Expert Intelligence clients can see them here.

Have a great rest of the week.


P.S. Next month, clients will be able to access our AI in Numbers report covering all the angles behind AI investment trends. Let us know if you'd like to hear more about how to access it.

This week in data:
  • $4B: TripActions, a travel management platform aimed at businesses, raised $250M in a Series D round led by VC Andreessen Horowitz. The financing values the startup at $4B, a 4x increase compared to its Series C valuation less than a year ago.
  • 90 employees: Apple has acquired, an autonomous vehicle startup, which was reportedly on the verge of shutting down after filing its intent to lay off around 90 employees. Apple is developing its own self-driving car technology under its Project Titan unit — which itself recently saw layoffs across a number of departments. The Cupertino-based tech giant is not alone in its autonomous vehicle ambitions — here are 45 other corporations working on self-driving cars.

  • $14B: Private equity firm Warburg Pincus has announced a $4.25B fund for investing in China and Southeast Asia. The firm previously invested in prominent Chinese companies, including participating in Ant Financial’s enormous $14B Series C in 2018 and EV maker NIO’s $600M Series D in 2017.
  • 362 unicorns: Online shoe trading platform StockX became the latest startup with a $1B+ valuation after closing a $110M Series C from investors including DST Global and Google Ventures. Chinese pharmaceutical e-commerce platform Miaoshou Doctor also reached a $1B+ valuation after raising a round of funding from Tencent and Sequoia Capital China, among others. The companies join 360 other unicorns around the world — see them all using our tracker
  • $115M: Fusion energy startup Commonwealth Fusion Systems raised $115M in a Series A mega-round, with investors including Khosla Ventures, Lowercase Capital, and Future Ventures. The company is hoping to commercialize a reactor that could provide abundant amounts of clean energy. Expert Intelligence clients can read about how the technology works and check out several startups in the space here

  • 1st: San Francisco voted to effectively ban e-cigarettes in an attempt to reduce the number of young people taking up vaping. The measure would make San Francisco — the hometown of vape giant JUUL — the first US city to severely limit e-cigarettes. Last month, JUUL was reportedly valued at up to $50B.
  • $260M: 3D printing unicorn Carbon raised $260M in a Series E round at a valuation of $2.4B — a 41% increase on its previous valuation at the end of 2017. From food to aviation, here are 35 industries 3D printing tech could transform.

  • 219 yards: The Pentagon has developed a device that can identify an individual based upon their heartbeat — a trait which researchers say is a more reliable identifier than facial recognition. The device uses an infrared laser to measure skin movements caused by the heart’s activity, and can reportedly identify someone from 219 yards away. Though slated for military use, the device creators also foresee other applications, such as monitoring in hospitals.
  • 20x: NASA’s Curiosity rover, which is currently exploring the Martian surface, detected methane levels more than 20x greater than normal, leading to cautious speculation that the gas may be coming from living organisms. Methane is produced by microbes, but also by some geological interactions. The space agency says that the detected methane levels have since reduced to more typical readings, but was unable to say for sure what the cause of the spike was.
One more thing...


Remember when everyone was doing the mannequin challenge a couple years ago?

Well, if you participated, you helped train a neural network. Google AI used the YouTube videos of people doing the challenge to help teach a neural network how to navigate unfamiliar surroundings.

Read more about it here.
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