With every year, AI is beginning to bring more standardized levels of diagnostic accuracy in medicine. This is true of skin cancer detection, for example, and lung cancers.
Now, a startup in Israel called Embryonics says its AI can improve the odds of successfully implanting a healthy embryo during in vitro fertilization. What the company has been developing, in essence, is an algorithm to predict embryo implantation probability, one they have trained through IVF time-lapsed imaging of developing embryos.
It’s just getting started, to be clear. So far, in a pilot involving 11 women ranging in age from 20 to 40, six of those individuals are enjoying successful pregnancies, and the other five are awaiting results, says Embryonics.
Still, Embryonics is interesting for its potential to shake up a big market that’s been stuck for decades and continues to grow only because of external trends, like millennial women who are putting off having children owing to economic concerns.
Consider that the global in-vitro fertilization market is expected to grow from roughly $ 18.3 billion to nearly double that number in the next five years by some estimates. Yet the tens of thousands of women who undergo IVF each year have long faced costs of anywhere from $ 10,000 to $ 15,000 per cycle (at least in the U.S.), along with long-shot odds that grow worse with age.
Indeed, it’s the prospect of reducing the number of IVF rounds and their attendant expenses that drives Embryonics, which was founded three years ago by CEO Yael Gold-Zamir, an M.D. who studied general surgery at Hebrew University, yet became a researcher in an IVF laboratory owing to an abiding interest in the science behind fertility.
As it happens, she would be introduced to two individuals with complementary interests and expertise. One of them was David Silver, who had studied bioinformatics at the prestigious Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and who, before joining Embryonics last year, spent three years as a machine learning engineer at Apple and three years before that as an algorithm engineer at Intel.
The second individual to whom Gold-Zamir was introduced was Alex Bronstein, a serial founder who spent years as a principal engineer with Intel and who is today the head of the Center for Intelligent Systems at Technion as well as involved with several efforts involving deep learning AI, including at Embryonics and at Sibylla AI, a nascent outfit focused on algorithmic trading in capital markets.
It’s a small outfit, but the three, along with 13 other full-time employees to join them, appear to be making progress.
Fueled in part by $ 4 million in seed funding led by the Shuctermann Family Investment Office (led by the former president of Soros Capital, Sender Cohen) and the Israeli Innovation Authority, Embryonics says it’s about to receive regulatory approval in Europe that will enable it to sell its software — which the team says can recognize patterns and interpret image in small cell clusters with greater accuracy than a human — to fertility clinics across the continent.
Using a database with millions of (anonymized) patient records from different centers around the world that representing all races and geographies and ages, says Gold-Zamir, the company is already eyeing next steps, too.
Most notably, beyond analyzing which of several embryos is most likely to thrive, Embryonics wants to work with fertility clinics on improving what’s called hormonal stimulation, so that their patients produce as many mature eggs as possible.
As Bronstein explains it, every woman who goes through IVF or fertility preservation goes through an hormonal stimulation process — which involves getting injected with hormones from 8 to 14 days — to induce their ovaries to produce numerous eggs. But right now, there are just three general protocols and a “lot of trial and error in trying to establish the right one,” he says.
Though deep learning, Embryonics thinks it can begin to understand not just which hormones each individual should be taking but the different times they should be taken.
In addition to embryo selection, Embryonics has developed a non-invasive genetic test based on analysis of visual information, together with clinical data, that in some cases can detect major chromosomal aberrations like down syndrome, says Gold-Zamir.
And there’s more in the works if all goes as planned. “Embryonics’s goal is to provide a holistic solution, covering all aspects of the process,” says Gold-Zamir, who volunteers that she is raising four children of her own, along with running the company.
It’s too soon to say whether the nascent outfit will succeed, naturally. But it certainly seems to be at the forefront of a technology that is fast changing after more than 40 years wherein many IVF clinics worldwide have simply assessed embryo health by looking at days-old embryos on a petri dish under a microscope to assess their cell multiplication and shape.
In the spring of 2019, for instance, investigators from Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City published own their conclusion that AI can evaluate embryo morphology more accurately than the human eye after using 12,000 photos of human embryos taken precisely 110 hours after fertilization to train an algorithm to discriminate between poor and good embryo quality.
The investigators said that each embryo was first assigned a grade by embryologists that considered various aspects of the embryo’s appearance. The investigators then performed a statistical analysis to correlate the embryo grade with the probability of a successful pregnancy outcome. Embryos were considered good quality if the chances were greater than 58 percent and poor quality if the chances were below 35%.
After training and validation, the algorithm was able to classify the quality of a new set of images with 97% accuracy.
For a long time now, both industrial and infrastructure companies have sought ways to lower the risk of business disruption through visual monitoring of the site assets and infrastructure. As a result, many companies have begun integrating advanced autonomous air and ground robotic solutions into their operational awareness efforts.
Raised €38M funding
In this regard, Percepto, an Israeli startup is a developer of autonomous drone technology for inspection and surveillance. Recently, the company secured $ 45M (approx €38M) in Series B funding.
Who backed Percepto?
The round was led by Koch Disruptive Technologies (KDT). Other new and existing investors including State of Mind Ventures, Atento Capital, Summit Peak Investments, Delek-US, U.S. Venture Partners, Spider Capital, and Arkin Holdings, also participated in the funding. This brings the overall funding to $ 72.5M (approx €60M).
Automates inspection and monitoring workflows
Founded by Ariel Avitan, Dor Abuhasira, Raviv Raz, and Sagi Blonder, Percepto’s Autonomous Inspection & Monitoring (AIM) platform fully automates inspection and monitoring workflows allowing businesses to detect risks earlier, enhance measurement accuracy, spot trends easily, and gain better situational awareness.
Operating a fleet of third party robots alongside their autonomous Sparrow drone, Percepto AIM provides visual data management and analysis to report trends and anomalies and to alert of risks.
Deploy robots upon request
Any member of staff can request data, and Percepto AIM will deploy the most suitable robot without human accompaniment to retrieve and stream the required data. The platform also reports to assess risk, minimise downtime, drive efficiency, and reduce operational costs without human intervention.
“Our customers, which include some of the world’s leading utility, oil & gas sites, mining, and other critical infrastructure facilities, are eager to fully embrace automation across their operations and reap the benefits of driving efficiency, reducing costs, and safeguarding staff. We’re excited to be the first to empower our customers with truly autonomous inspection and monitoring, driven by the management of multiple visual robotic data sources together with other visual sources including piloted drones, CCTV and mobile cameras, on-site or remotely,” says Dor Abuhasira, CEO and Co-Founder Percepto.
Works with Spot, the robot dog
Spot, a robot dog, developed by Boston Dynamics that navigates through terrain is also integrated with AIM to automate inspection rounds completely controlled remotely via the platform.
Notably, the robot dog carries Percepto’s Sparrow for high-resolution imaging and thermal vision to detect issues including hot spots on machines or electrical conductors, water and steam leaks around plants and equipment with degraded performance, with the data relayed via AIM.
“Combining Percepto’s Sparrow drone with Spot creates a unique solution for remote inspection,” says Michael Perry, VP of Business Development at Boston Dynamics. “This partnership demonstrates the value of harnessing robotic collaborations and the insurmountable benefits to worker safety and cost savings that robotics can bring to industries that involve hazardous or remote work.”
Consumer drones have over the years struggled with an image of being no more than expensive and delicate toys. But applications in industrial, military and enterprise scenarios have shown that there is indeed a market for unmanned aerial vehicles, and today, a startup that makes drones for some of those latter purposes is announcing a large round of funding and a partnership that provides a picture of how the drone industry will look in years to come.
Percepto, which makes drones — both the hardware and software — to monitor and analyze industrial sites and other physical work areas largely unattended by people, has raised $ 45 million in a Series B round of funding.
Alongside this, it is now working with Boston Dynamics and has integrated its Spot robots with Percepto’s Sparrow drones, with the aim being better infrastructure assessments, and potentially more as Spot’s agility improves.
The funding is being led by a strategic backer, Koch Disruptive Technologies, the investment arm of industrial giant Koch Industries (which has interests in energy, minerals, chemicals and related areas), with participation also from new investors State of Mind Ventures, Atento Capital, Summit Peak Investments and Delek-US. Previous investors U.S. Venture Partners, Spider Capital and Arkin Holdings also participated. (It appears that Boston Dynamics and SoftBank are not part of this investment.)
Israel-based Percepto has now raised $ 72.5 million since it was founded in 2014, and it’s not disclosing its valuation, but CEO and founder Dor Abuhasira described as “a very good round.”
“It gives us the ability to create a category leader,” Abuhasira said in an interview. It has customers in around 10 countries, with the list including ENEL, Florida Power and Light and Verizon.
While some drone makers have focused on building hardware, and others are working specifically on the analytics, computer vision and other critical technology that needs to be in place on the software side for drones to work correctly and safely, Percepto has taken what I referred to, and Abuhasira confirmed, as the “Apple approach”: vertical integration as far as Percepto can take it on its own.
That has included hiring teams with specializations in AI, computer vision, navigation and analytics as well as those strong in industrial hardware — all strong areas in the Israel tech landscape, by virtue of it being so closely tied with its military investments. (Note: Percepto does not make its own chips: these are currently acquired from Nvidia, he confirmed to me.)
“The Apple approach is the only one that works in drones,” he said. “That’s because it is all still too complicated. For those offering an Android-style approach, there are cracks in the complete flow.”
It presents the product as a “drone-in-a-box”, which means in part that those buying it have little work to do to set it up to work, but also refers to how it works: its drones leave the box to make a flight to collect data, and then return to the box to recharge and transfer more information, alongside the data that is picked up in real time.
The drones themselves operate on an on-demand basis: they fly in part for regular monitoring, to detect changes that could point to issues; and they can also be launched to collect data as a result of engineers requesting information. The product is marketed by Percepto as “AIM”, short for autonomous site inspection and monitoring.
News broke last week that Amazon has been reorganising its Prime Air efforts — one sign of how some more consumer-facing business applications — despite many developments — may still have some turbulence ahead before they are commercially viable. Businesses like Percepto’s stand in contrast to that, with their focus specifically on flying over, and collecting data, in areas where there are precisely no people present.
It has dovetailed with a bigger focus from industries on the efficiencies (and cost savings) you can get with automation, which in turn has become the centerpiece of how industry is investing in the buzz phrase of the moment, “digital transformation.”
“We believe Percepto AIM addresses a multi-billion-dollar issue for numerous industries and will change the way manufacturing sites are managed in the IoT, Industry 4.0 era,” said Chase Koch, president of Koch Disruptive Technologies, in a statement. “Percepto’s track record in autonomous technology and data analytics is impressive, and we believe it is uniquely positioned to deliver the remote operations center of the future. We look forward to partnering with the Percepto team to make this happen.”
The partnership with Boston Dynamics is notable for a couple of reasons: it speaks to how various robotics hardware will work together in tandem in an automated, unmanned world, and it speaks to how Boston Dynamics is pulling up its socks.
On the latter front, the company has been making waves in the world of robotics for years, specifically with its agile and strong dog-like (with names like “Spot” and “Big Dog”) robots that can cover rugged terrain and handle tussles without falling apart.
That led it into the arms of Google, which acquired it as part of its own secretive moonshot efforts, in 2013. That never panned out into a business, and probably gave Google more complicated optics at a time when it was already being seen as too powerful. Then, SoftBank stepped in to pick it up, along with other robotics assets, in 2017. That hasn’t really gone anywhere either, it seems, and just this month it was reported that Boston Dynamics was reportedly facing yet another suitor, Hyundai.
All of this is to say that partnerships with third parties that are going places (quite literally) become strong signs of how Boston Dynamics’ extensive R&D investments might finally pay off with enterprising dividends.
Indeed, while Percepto has focused on its own vertical integration, longer term and more generally there is an argument to be made for more interoperability and collaboration between the various companies building “connected” and smart hardware for industrial, physical applications.
It means that specific industries can focus on the special equipment and expertise they require, while at the same time complementing that with hardware and software that are recognised as best-in-class. Abuhasira said that he expects the Boston Dynamics partnership to be the first of many.
That makes this first one an interesting template. The partnership will see Spot carrying Percepto’s payloads for high-resolution imaging and thermal vision “to detect issues including hot spots on machines or electrical conductors, water and steam leaks around plants and equipment with degraded performance, with the data relayed via AIM.” It will also mean a more thorough picture, beyond what you get from the air. And, potentially, you might imagine a time in the future when the data that the combined devices source results even in Spot (or perhaps a third piece of autonomous hardware) carrying out repairs or other assistance.
“Combining Percepto’s Sparrow drone with Spot creates a unique solution for remote inspection,” said Michael Perry, VP of Business Development at Boston Dynamics, in a statement. “This partnership demonstrates the value of harnessing robotic collaborations and the insurmountable benefits to worker safety and cost savings that robotics can bring to industries that involve hazardous or remote work.”
Though the pandemic situation hasn’t completely eased all over the world, the European tech startup ecosystem appears to have come out of the worst-hit era. Several tech startups across Europe are hitting the headlines as they receive funding that will help them grow further and boost their business goals.
European tech startups weekly
As a part of a weekly roundup, here is a list of some of the most important tech startups that have hit the headlines in Europe this week.
AI-driven ‘Document Intelligence’ solutions
Paris-based reciTAL that specialises in ‘Document Intelligence’ solutions has secured €3.5M funding in a round led by Breega, a European VC firm. The company will use this initial funding to boost its development and make itself the reference platform for automated data extraction. reciTAL intends to perfect and industrialise their solution and speed up business development along with Breega.
Established in 2017 by Gilles Moyse and Frédéric Allary, reciTAL’s Document Intelligence solutions will pave the way for rapid information retrieval, email flow processing, contract analysis, due diligence processes, risk assessment, and more. This platform allows companies to search and retrieve any text document in natural language.
AI to reduce bias in recruitment
Based out of Dublin, Swyg has bagged €1M funding in a round led by Frontline Ventures, a B2B venture capital firm along with angel investors such as Martin Henk (Pipedrive co-founder) and Charles Bibby (Pointy co-founder). According to the company, the funding it raised this year will be used to strengthen its team and to further develop its product.
Founded in 2018 by Vincent Lonij, Swyg empowers candidates to review and interview each other via a series of one-to-one video chats, along with pre-defined structured questions. This peer-to-peer process sources its expertise from a diverse group of individuals and doesn’t rely on a single recruiter or hiring manager. Its AI technology calibrates interviewers in real-time to reduce bias and human error.
Solution to discover biomolecules
Hedera-22, based in Belgium, bagged €1M funding in a round led by Globachem, a family-owned international agrochemical company. The company intends to use this investment to accelerate the development of its activity towards both the discovery and production of new biomolecules.
Hedera-22 was founded in 2015 by Denis Baurain, Marc Hanikenne, Sébastien Rigali, and Pierre Tocquin as a spin-off of ULiège (University of Liège). The company provides customised bioinformatic services both in the biotechnology and healthcare industries. The company is also developing a strategy that combines bioinformatics and environmental microbiology to improve the discovery of new biomolecules that are useful for the agro-industry and human medicine.
Automated contract review technology
London-based legaltech startup ThoughtRiver has secured €8.4M in Series A funding round led by Octopus Ventures, a European VC that invests in technology innovation leaders. The other investors that support ThoughRiver are Syndicate Room, Entrée Capital, Local Globe, Crane, and angel investor Duncan Painter. With offices in London, Singapore, New York, Cambridge, and Auckland, this startup with focus more on growing its market share in the US and scale its sales and marketing efforts. Also, it will roll out integrations with leading technology partners.
Established by Tim Pullan, ThoughRiver’s automated contract review software enables companies that want to accelerate the process of reviewing, negotiating, and signing contracts. This way, companies can drive deal velocity and also make critical business decisions with data. Recently, the company announced Michael Lisowski, the ex-COO and divisional President as Ascential plc, as its COO.
B2B cryptocurrency payments infrastructure
Mercury.io, an Estonian startup has secured €2.5M in a seed funding round led by Target Global, a global VC fund with over €800 million under management. This investment comes as Target Global believes that fintech is a lot about infrastructure right now.
Founded in 2018 by Petr Kozyakov, Alex Vasiliev, and Greg Waisman, Mercury.io is a cryptocurrency exchange payment provider. It has offices in Tallinn and London and complies with PCI DSS international information security standards. The company’s standard is adopted by MasterCard, Visa, and AmEx as well.
Safe living space for the elderly
Berlin-based proptech startup Seniovo has bagged €2.5M growth financing from existing investors IBB Beteiligungsgesellschaft and PropTech1 and a few new investors. With the fresh capital, the company will be able to expand its B2B business. Notably, it is one of the first startups to receive funds from the Germany government’s COVID-19 relief aid for startups that exhibit exceptional growth potential.
Seniovo was founded in 2016 by Jonathan Kohl to renovate homes and make them safe for the elderly. Recently, Seniovo partnered with residential property group Vonovia to modernise bathrooms to make them suitable for the elderly. It is an online platform that provides a customised offer for renovating a user’s bathroom based on a five-step questionnaire on its homepage.
Spot robot goes global
Boston Dynamics, which is a global leader in mobile robotics has expanded the commercial sales of Spot robot. Well, Spot is an agile robot that can climb stairs and traverse rough terrain seamlessly. As a result of the global expansion, Spot robot will be available in the EU, UK, and Canada. This follows the launch of the commercial sales of this robot in the US.
Founded in 1992 by Marc Raibert, Boston Dynamics develops and deploys highly mobile robots that can tackle even the toughest challenges in robotics with ease. It operates with the mission to lead the robotics industry with offerings that have advanced mobility, intelligence, and dexterity.
Smart parking technology
London-based AppyWay has raised £20M (nearly €21.7M) in Series B funding. This funding comes after the Series A funding from Sumitomo Corporation, Hyundai Motor Company, Aviva Ventures, West Hill Capital, and Breed Reply. AppyWay intends to use this investment for organic growth of the platform, further technological investment, strategic acquisitions, and global scalability.
Established in 2013 by Dan Hubert, AppyWay provides an advanced platform of precise and standardised data, APIs, and tools for smart kerbside management. It uses IoT sensors to establish kerbside demand data and enrich the same via a range of sources such as navigation, traffic solutions, mobility, payment operators and MaaS, and much more.
E-vehicle charging startup acquires Electromaps
Wallbox, a Barcelona-based energy management company that manufactures smart e-vehicle charging solutions has acquired Electromaps. Notably, Electromaps is a leading digital platform to access free and paid-for electric charging points in Southern Europe. With this acquisition, Wallbox enters the public electric charging space.
Wallbox was founded by Enric Asunción and Eduard Castañeda in 2015 with the mission to change the way energy is used. Wallbox designs, develops, and manufactures smart charging solutions for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids for both domestic and business use.
Cloud-based tech platform
Screening Eagle, a cloud-based technology platform that connects sensors, software, and data for inspection of infrastructure and assets secured CHF 5M (nearly €4.6M) funding as an extension to the funding it secured in April 2020 – total funding of CHF 60M (nearly €55.7M).
This funding was led by a family office and will be diverted to accelerate Screening Eagle’s growth plans by helping talent acquisition, product development, M&A, and more.
The company was founded by Marcel Poser in Zurich and has over 220 employees across 9 worldwide offices with R&D technology hubs in Zürich, Málaga, and Singapore. Its blue-chip clients inspect the world’s most valuable assets including oil and gas, buildings and infrastructure, energy, and transportation.
BioCatch has released a short primer that looks at some of the predictive factors for new account fraud. The post specifically explains how behavioral analytics can offer a glimpse at a user’s short and long-term memory, which in turn can help determine whether or not that user is a legitimate customer or a fraudster.
Zebra Medical Vision, a kibbutz-based startup that uses artificial intelligence technology to help read medical scans, said it has received US Food and Drug Administration clearance for use of its algorithm to read mammograms.