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Uber acquires Seattle startup Mighty AI to fuel its push into self-driving cars

uber acquires seattle startup mighty ai to fuel its push into self driving cars
One of Uber’s self-driving vehicles outside the company’s facility in Pittsburgh. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Uber just made its first acquisition of a Seattle startup, swooping up Mighty AI, which develops training data for computer vision models.

The deal closed today and was confirmed by both companies. Terms were not disclosed.

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Mighty AI CEO Daryn Nakhuda. (Mighty AI Photo)

“The team at Mighty AI has built technology to label at scale using the latest AI and user experience techniques,” Jon Thomason, vice president of software engineering for Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, said in a statement. “Training our AI at increasing pace is critical to scaling our self-driving technology, and I look forward to bringing Mighty AI’s technology together with our existing labeling automation expertise to help us move even faster.”

Uber will acquire Mighty AI’s intellectual property, tooling, tech talent, and labeling community. A little more than 40 employees from Mighty AI will join Uber at its Seattle engineering office, operating as a team within Uber’s self-driving division. Mighty AI clients — which included Samsung, Microsoft, Intel, Accenture, Siemens, and others — have been notified that the company’s operations will shut down.

“I’m excited to pair Mighty AI’s platform and expertise in generating high-quality labeled data with Uber ATG’s world-class research and engineering to accelerate the development of self-driving technology,” Mighty AI CEO Daryn Nakhuda said in a statement. Nakhuda will join Uber following the deal; Mighty AI President Isaac Kato, hired last year, will not.

The Information reported about the rumored deal last week.

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(Mighty AI Photo)

Uber has been working on autonomous vehicle technology at robotics facilities for several years and plans to start rolling out self-driving taxis on public roads in 2020, after a few recent setbacks. Reuters reported in April that many are pinning the long-term success of Uber on its self-driving developments. “A bet on Uber is a bet on self-driving,” Wired proclaimed in May.

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The transportation giant invested $457 million last year in the company’s Pittsburgh-based Advanced Technologies Group, which oversees self-driving tech. “We expect to increase our investments in these new initiatives in the near term,” Uber wrote in its IPO documents.

Uber has more than 450 employees at its Seattle engineering hub that recently expanded. The company, which went public last year, has made eight acquisitions to date, according to Crunchbase.

Along with Uber, there are several other tech giants competing in the self-driving race. Apple made its own related acquisition on Tuesday, buying Drive.ai.

Founded in 2014, Mighty AI makes software that helps computer vision systems label and identify objects. Training data is crucial to improve how self-driving cars “see” other cars, people, signs, and objects on the road.

Autonomous vehicle software is the company’s focus, though customers in other fields have also found applications for the technology such as cashierless checkout and precision agriculture. Mighty AI competed with San Francisco-based Scale API.

Mighty AI had raised $27 million from investors including Intel Capital, GV, Foundry Group, Madrona Venture Group, and New Enterprise Associates (NEA). It was ranked No. 104 on the GeekWire 200, our list of top Pacific Northwest startups.

The Uber acquisition was a good outcome for Mighty AI given the current state of its business, but investors did not get back all of their investment, according to a GeekWire source.

Board members included Oren Etzioni; Greg Gottesman; Jason Mendelson; and S. “Soma” Somasegar.

The company originally launched as Spare5, the first spinout created at Madrona Venture Labs in 2014. The idea was to have everyday people spend a spare five minutes or so performing short tasks like photo tagging, price guessing or survey taking on their mobile devices.

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The startup relaunched under its new name in 2017 when it raised $14 million in a Series B financing round and honed in on selling “training data as a service.” It still used the insights of people to help make AI engines stronger — for example, identifying objects along the road that could be potential obstacles — and operated the Spare5 app.

“Today, companies’ data is highly proprietary, and it’s expensive to collect and annotate,” Nakhuda told GeekWire earlier this year after the company was nominated as a GeekWire Awards finalist. “We envision a world in which data is shared for the greater good to rapidly advance the development of intelligent applications. To that end, we are investing in a range of initiatives to increase the democratization of data.”

Mighty AI lists 75 employees on LinkedIn; it had additional offices in Detroit and Boston.

The company’s co-founder and former CEO Matt Bencke passed away in October 2017 after a battle with cancer.

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Mighty AI’s original founding team, from left to right: Patrick O’Donnell, Matt Shobe, Matt Bencke, and Daryn Nakhuda. Bencke passed away in 2017 after a battle with cancer. (Madrona Photo)

Source: Geek Wire

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