Amazon Acquires Image Analysis Startup Orbeus

Amazon.com Inc. acquired artificial-intelligence startup Orbeus Inc., according to a person familiar with the matter, part of a broader push by the world’s largest Internet retailer into smart software for its cloud-computing and connected-device businesses.

The acquisition took place in the fall of 2015, said the person who asked not to be identified because Amazon hasn’t announced the deal.

An Amazon spokeswoman and representatives at Sunnyvale, California-based Orbeus, including Chief Executive Officer Yi Li, did not respond to requests for comment. An online search shows that the startup’s domain name, Orbe.us, is owned by registrant Amazon Hostmaster, part of an Amazon subsidiary called Amazon Technologies Inc.

Orbeus developed photo-recognition technology based on a powerful type of AI called neural networks and made this available as a consumer application, as well as a service for other companies and developers called ReKognition. It automatically categorized and identified the contents of photos. Orbeus’s app, PhotoTime, came out before Google launched its successful AI-based Photos app.

"ReKognition API is no longer taking new customers," Orbeus says on its website. "But we’re up to new/exciting things."

Amazon is investing heavily in AI to automate warehouse operations, improve delivery systems, and add new products to its Amazon Web Services cloud offering. It’s also an area of interest for Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, who, like other tech moguls such as Elon Musk and Larry Page, is fascinated with the possibilities created by machines that think for themselves. Last month Bezos hosted a retreat for machine-learning and robotics experts in Palm Springs, California.

Other startups applying neural networks to image-recognition and related computer-vision tasks include New York-based Clarifai Inc. and Palo Alto-based MetaMind Inc.

Big technology companies are interested in this field, and other areas of AI. Salesforce.com Inc. said Monday it acquired MetaMind, while Apple Inc. said in January it purchased Emotient Inc., which specialized in facial-recognition technology.

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