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Amazon has hired nearly all of the people who worked at Orbeus, a small startup with technology for identifying items and people in photos and videos using deep learning, a type of artificial intelligence. Orbeus built an app for iOS and Android that could instantly tag photos, called PhotoTime, as well as the underlying Rekognition application programming interface (API) that developers use for their own apps.

A few months ago the startup’s homepage changed; no longer did the site describe the company’s services.

“ReKognition API is no longer taking new customers. Thank you very much for your interest and support. But we’re up to new/exciting things,” a message on the startup’s homepage currently says.

Orbeus chief executive Yi Li would not comment. Amazon did not have a comment. Terms of the deal weren’t available. Earlier today Bloomberg reported on the activity, describing it as a full-on acquisition.


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The deal could bring improvements to Amazon Cloud Drive’s applications. At the same time, the team’s expertise could be valuable at another part of Amazon: the market-leading Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud. Google, which offers the deep learning-powered Google Photos app, introduced the Cloud Vision API in December. Microsoft, which has OneDrive, has been fleshing out Project Oxford, which offers image recognition for third-party apps.

Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have all made acquisitions in the area of deep learning, which involves training artificial neural networks on data, such as photos, and then having them make predictions about new data.

Recent Amazon acquisitions include high-performance computing company Nice and video processing company Elemental Technologies.

Orbeus started in 2012 and was based in Sunnyvale, California. Cofounder and chief technology officer Wang Meng previously worked at Google. In 2013 Orbeus showed off an integration with Google Glass. The PhotoTime app worked with multiple cloud storage services, including Dropbox and Amazon Cloud Drive.

A demonstration of the Orbeus API that was previously available on the startup's website.

Above: A demonstration of the Orbeus API that was previously available on the startup’s website.

Image Credit: screenshot/Jordan Novet/VentureBeat

Investors include Amino Capital, Excelerate Labs, Pritzker Group Venture Capital, CRCM Venture Capital, and ZhenFund.

As I demonstrated last year, Orbeus’ core technology could hold up against the likes of Stephen Wolfram’s ImageIdentify, startups Clarifai and MetaMind (acquired by Salesforce), and AlchemyAPI (acquired by IBM). That type of capability certainly could be desirable for more popular photo storage services.

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