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Tuesday, 28 June 2022 10:36

Automation startup Black.ai closes $5.4m seed-plus round Featured

By Staff Writer
Phoebe Collier, Sebastien Collier, Keaton Okkonen, and Karthik Rajgopal. Photo: Kit Haselden Phoebe Collier, Sebastien Collier, Keaton Okkonen, and Karthik Rajgopal. Photo: Kit Haselden

Australian computer vision and automation startup Black.ai has closed a $5.4 million seed-plus round led by Jelix Ventures, taking its total funding to $8.55 million.

Black.ai says the the new capital, which also included Right Click Capital and several angel investors, will support the company as it expands its industry reach, doubles its local headcount and further builds out its insights-driven infrastructure.

Founded in 2016, Black.ai’s camera agnostic software enables users to better understand their physical environments and the complex interactions that happen within them.

Describing itself as “uniquely transferable across spaces”, Black.ai started in the grocery sector, but now also enables industries like healthcare, retail and mining to programmatically detect and optimise different spatial behaviours and trends.

Black.ai says its point of difference is its state of the art computer vision software and privacy-first modelling algorithms, which create highly granular datasets using non-identifying information to represent entire journeys and areas at any single moment in time.

“Using this insight, organisations can automatically and instantly improve the management and planning of their environmental needs — enabling better support for those using the space. This means retailers can better optimise their customer experiences, healthcare providers are able to improve the care given to people in need, and heavy industries can more effectively implement critical safety protocols,” Black.ai says.

According to lead investor, Jelix’s Andrea Gardiner, the company is tapping into a space that to date, has only been successfully explored by in-house operators (like Amazon’s Go).

“Black.ai is democratising automation in a way that hasn’t been seen before. It is also addressing an increasingly imperative but difficult technology problem to overcome, the variables of human behaviour.

“Software is progressively automating the world. From safety, to scalability and reliability, nothing is off limits. Black.ai’s technology is the key infrastructure to support the rapidly growing global demand for smarter environments that react to real-time events. Their software is bridging a need that will fuel future innovations for generations to come.”

Gardiner also said that in addition to the leadership team’s “incredible smarts and deep tech expertise”, CEO Keaton Okkonen, CTO Sebastien Collier, Director of Research Karthik Rajgopal, and Operations Lead Phoebe Collier have an unrivalled respect for the ethical and privacy considerations of the space they are in.

“This can be seen across the business — through the ways in which they operate to how they consider customer challenges. They are actively questioning and challenging their thinking, to ensure their software improves and respects the lives of everyone it touches. This flows through to the businesses who use their tech, which is inspiring to witness. We’re thrilled to be part of the journey.”

Okkonen said that at its core, Black.ai is seeking to make everyday behaviours accessible to software, “so that automation can be leveraged to the benefit of humankind”.

“We set out to create a product that gives users a quick and comprehensive understanding of their environmental needs and challenges, without relying on privacy invasive technologies like facial recognition. This has since evolved to the business of understanding human behaviour so that organisations can better streamline their operations to the benefit of their people; be it customers, staff, or those in their care and communities.

“We see automation as the most powerful tool that humans have access to, but there is a huge technological gap blocking us from relying on it in dynamic physical environments; especially where the processes we want to automate are unpredictable. We also believe that there is a deep responsibility in the curation of software that leverages AI, hence why we are working with an array of industry and consumer experts as we build our business.

“We hold both ourselves and our customers to extremely high standards. Our goal is to always exceed community expectations, especially around privacy, in what is a continuously evolving space,” said Okkonen

As part of its growth, Black.ai says it will expand its international footprint, including its US operations which already includes supporting the innovation hub of a leading global retailer.

Ulric Ferner, Advisor and Operating Principal at Right Click Capital said, “Unlike anyone else we’ve seen globally, black.ai has cracked the notorious ‘multi-camera’ problem, enabling their customers to understand and deploy incredible environmental insights at a massive scale. The hustle and creativity of this team is absolutely world-class and they’re only just getting started.”

“We are deeply thankful for the support of Jelix, Right Click and all those who’ve contributed to our growth to date. With their help, we’re building a business with global potential in a space that is only just starting to evolve. It’s important that Australia has a strong presence in the AI evolution, and we’re thrilled to be a part of the momentum,” Okkonen concluded.

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