Perceptive Automata Shuts Down After Funding Runs Out

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perceptual automata, a Boston-based developer of artificial intelligence that understands human behavior for autonomous vehicles and robots, recently closed. According to co-founder and CTO Sam Anthony, Perceptive Automata became “kablooey” after it failed to close Series B funding.

CEO Bruce Reading is now trying to sell the company’s intellectual property. Some former employees posted about the unexpected closure on LinkedIn. You can see screenshots of the posts below, which said that the Series B funding did not close. Anthony also spoke about the shutdown on a recent episode of the Auto Broadcast Podcast.

Anthony said the closure took a toll on him and the staff. “The part that was lousy was how it went for the staff. There was a sense that we were surprised that it fell apart,” he said. “That said, I’m not sure we should have been surprised. Part of being a VC-funded company is that you have pretty specific milestones that you need to hit. If you don’t hit them, the path is cloudy at best. Combined with other factors beyond our control, we were in a difficult situation.”

Anthony continued: “We do not meet the metrics investors use to determine Series B funding. Part of that is due to the state of [autonomous vehicles] and our focus on [autonomous vehicles].”

AI Mood

Founded in 2015, Perceptive Automata was trying to solve what, along with others, have described as the most difficult problem in robotics today: giving AI human understanding. In its attempt to do that, Perceptive Automata combined behavioral science and machine learning techniques in a product called State of Mind AI (SOMAI). The core software module is wrapped in a C++ API that enables integration with autonomous driving stacks.

perceptual automata

By working with autonomous vehicles, Perceptive Automata said SOMAI would help systems better anticipate and react to human behavior. SOMAI ingests real-time data from a system’s sensors of the humans around it, including eye contact, posture, physical orientation, head movement, and more. SOMAI then generates real-time estimates on two attributes of the human mental state: intention and awareness. Those results are sent to the stacks of a system and, Perceptive Automata says, would enable better autonomous navigation between cyclists, other drivers and pedestrians. You can see a video explanation of SOMAI below.

On the Autonocast podcast, Anthony said that “no level 4 player has what we were offering. And I’m sure they’re going to need it at some point.” Many autonomous vehicle companies, including leaders like Cruise and Waymo, have been using behavioral prediction models for some time. Waymo just wrote a few months ago about how you use “key points” to try to predict human behavior. It’s published an article about his work on 3D human pose estimation technology. Cruise has also written about this extensively in the past.

Perceptive Automata claims that it takes a different and better approach than traditional AI methods by eliminating the so-called “black box.” On its website it says: “When a system like this looks at pedestrians, all it can do is try to guess which type of black box, which set of numbers, is the best fit for a pedestrian. Traditional deep learning, with all its benefits, has that limitation. But that black box doesn’t tell you what you need to know about how a pedestrian behaves: their state of mind.”

Self-driving car companies aren’t ‘feeling enough pain’

Anthony said on the Autonocast podcast that, at the end of the day, Perceptive Automata failed to show any real traction in the market. But this is where things get tricky, as Anthony seems to blame self-driving car companies in part for the failure of Perceptive Automata. He said autonomous vehicle companies weren’t “feeling enough pain” yet to want to work with Perceived Automata.

“Everyone wants to figure this out for themselves without talking to another soul about it. They have very large prediction teams that say, ‘Just give me a couple more years and I’ll figure this out.’ So the prediction teams saw us as competitive, and these companies didn’t want to outsource this.”

He continued, “Their ability to hit internal metrics around revenue and deployments, despite their vehicles not running properly, was higher than we expected. So we didn’t get that traction.”

Anthony said this is just his version of what happened. He added that someone who works at an AV company might have a different version of this story about perceptual automata not providing enough value. Anthony then shares his skepticism about the autonomous vehicle industry, including discussing a recent Rodney Brooks blog about his experience touring San Francisco in a Robotaxi Cruise.

Perceptive Automata raised $16 million in Series A funding at the end of 2018. Overall, it has raised $20 million since it was founded.

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