Is Apple buying a Berlin AI startup? We asked AI investor Adrian Locher to what extent a takeover could make sense for the tech group.
Is Apple in M&A discussions with German AI startup Brighter AI? This is reported by the American Apple news platform 9to5Mac, citing an unnamed informant. The Berlin startup was not prepared to comment on Gründerszene until Monday. VCs that invested in Brighter AI, such as eCapital, also did not want to comment when asked.
The startup has developed technology that anonymizes people and objects in images and videos. For example, faces are distorted or car license plates are made unrecognizable. The adapted video material can then continue to be used in accordance with data protection regulations.
What's special: Brighter AI doesn't just blur out passers-by, but replaces human faces with a version that has been alienated using AI. The same applies to license plates, whose numbers and letters are replaced by a fictitious sequence. Brighter AI calls this “Deep Natural Anonymization”. This is minimally invasive blurring, which is intended to ensure an appearance that is as natural as possible but in compliance with data protection regulations. A suitable application case for Apple's recently released VR/AR glasses?
Someone who has been watching the industry for a long time is Adrian Locher, CEO of Merantix. This is a Berlin incubator and hub for AI startups. When we asked AI investor Locher last summer who he considered to be the rising stars of the German AI scene – i.e. up-and-coming AI companies that you should keep an eye on – the name Brighter AI also came up.
Now the Merantix CEO says: If the reports of a purchase by Apple are confirmed, he would not be surprised. Apple has long placed great value on data protection and knows “what a big factor data protection will play for a large proportion of (especially) European customers” when it comes to topics such as AI, VR and similar market segments. The AI investor says: “The acquisition would demonstrate the importance of strong data protection as AI enters the real physical world.”
Apple already anonymizes people in Apple Maps
“At Apple, we believe privacy is a fundamental human right,” says a company policy on image capture via Apple Maps. As a result, the tech company uses blurring technology before publishing each image on Maps to protect the privacy of people accidentally captured during the mapping process. The technology places a blur on faces and license plates.
Brighter AI's technology could be useful in the Apple Vision Pro if users take unsolicited photos of their surroundings. In the past there have been repeated data protection concerns. The $3,500 AR glasses have been commercially available for purchase since February 2nd – so far only in the USA. Adrian Locher sums up: “Maintaining consumer privacy without impacting the user experience will be a crucial factor in making Vision Pro a market leader.”
Brighter AI was founded in Berlin in 2017 by Marian Brille and Patrick Kern. The company is a spin-off of the automotive supplier Hella. The Portuguese VC Armilar Venture Partners took part in a Series A round in 2022, and in February 2023 the investment arm of Deutsche Bahn, DB Digital Ventures, followed suit and invested an undisclosed amount. Deutsche Bahn is one of the Berlin startup’s prominent customers.