Snap, the parent company of the popular social media app Snapchat, has recently announced their acquisition of Ariel AI—a British artificial intelligence start-up that specializes in AR technology. The London-based start-up was founded in 2018 by a group of former Facebook and Google research scientists. Iasonas Kokkinos, the former Chief executive, and George Papandreou, the Chief Technology Officer of Facebook are also a part of this team. Business Insider first reported the acquisition and Snap confirmed it later on Tuesday, 26 January.
Ariel AI’s website states that the company focuses on computer vision— a domain of AI that is widely used to build augmented reality features. The software exclusively allows real-time 3D human perception, which, Ariel AI states, can be used to boost the futuristic customer experience using smartphones or other mobile devices. According to the reports of Crunchbase, Ariel AI had raised an approximate $1.1 million funding for their technology prior to the acquisition. Snap has declined to reveal the price of their new acquisition. But, it is likely to amount to a few million.
Following the acquisition, 12 engineers from Ariel AI have been given the task to upgrade the Snapchat camera and make it ‘smarter’. Snap further elaborated that this endeavor would enhance Snapchat users’ experience to engage with the real world through improved augmented reality features. The task will focus on comprehending semantics, geometry, and other aspects of the things present in front of the camera.
Nathan Benaich, the co-author of the annual State of AI report and an AI investor at Air Street Capital remarked that he was not surprised by the news of this acquisition. He further commented that he was sure of Ariel AI’s acquisition by some big-shot company. Other than Snap, Samsung, Facebook, and even Pokemon Go maker Niantic were also contending in the race, Benaich reported. He thinks that Snap zeroed in on Ariel AI because of their focus on the on-device 3D mesh building in a very snappy as well as battery-efficient way, along with a use case in augmented reality. Benaich also added that he believes the acquisition was a result of Ariel AI’s talent present across its workforce.
Social Media Giants
For some time now, social media giants Tiktok and Facebook are competing with each other to develop sophisticated augmented reality experiences for their users. Many other U.S tech firms have bought several British start-ups in recent times. The most popular example of such acquisitions is Google acquiring DeepMind for a staggering $600million in the year 2014. Also, Facebook bought Bloomsbury AI for $30 million and Twitter bought Magic Pony Technology for $150 million in the same year.
Keeping up with their contenders, Snap also bought Voisey, a British start-up in November 2020. They have developed an app for Snap that allows its users to overlay their voices on short music tracks. Now, with their acquisition of Ariel AI, Snap expects to improve their AR features and subsequently, upgrade the Snapchat camera.