Neurala, With More Cash, Advances A.I. for Drones, Self-Driving Cars

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privacy concerns that come with sending images and other consumer data to a company’s servers. That will no doubt be a relief for, say, parents buying high-tech dolls and other toys for their children.

“The reason this is really important is there’s sort of a branch of A.I. that I personally call ‘creepy A.I.,’ which is the A.I. that takes information, sends it back to a central server, and they mine it for details,” Matus says. “We don’t do creepy A.I. All of our stuff is local. We don’t have to send images of your children back to a central server for [the software] to work.”

Neurala, an alum of the Techstars Boston startup accelerator, has seen demand for its software pick up in recent months. Versace and Matus say the catalysts were attending a drone trade show last fall and releasing a software development kit, which makes it easier for developers to embed Neurala software in their products.

Neurala’s customers include Motorola Solutions, drone makers Parrot and Teal Drones, and a major automaker that the company declined to disclose. The car manufacturer is using Neurala’s software to advance development of autonomous vehicles, specifically in identifying and locating nearby objects, Matus says. Meanwhile, he says Teal Drones is using Neurala’s software for a consumer app that enables the drone to lock on to a designated individual or object and track its movements.

Matus says Neurala is also working with companies in Europe incorporating its software in drones that perform maintenance inspections of things like cell phone towers, power lines, and rooftop solar panels. The users can train Neurala’s software to recognize and flag damage and other issues.

Roger Matus

“The drones can fly up to hard-to-reach locations and look for things, whether it be corrosion, or selected parts … and alert inspectors on the ground about what it sees,” Matus explains. “It adds intelligence, it adds speed, and it certainly makes it safer.”

Versace says it’s an exciting time to be working on artificial intelligence technologies, which are starting to move out of research labs and become real-world products. But there is still a lot that the technology can’t do.

“We are right at the beginning of the big explosion of the trend,” Versace says of advancing A.I.

Neurala has its work cut out as it goes up against other deep learning software companies, as well as big tech companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Uber, which are all pouring significant resources into A.I. technologies.

“It’s a very competitive space, and a very hard space,” Versace says. “It’s nothing that scares us though.”

The key for Neurala, Versace says, will be investing and innovating in the right technical areas, and making sure those bets pay off with customers.

“We want to stay out of the science experiment,” Versace says. “We need to keep ahead, not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of translating that technology into tangible products.”

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