Facebook has acquired the UK company Scape Technologies, a startup offering tools to identify locations more accurately than GPS using AI computer vision, according to Tech Crunch.
Few details on the deal have been released, but regulatory filings obtained by Tech Crunch indicate that Facebook has gained majority control of Scape Technologies, in what they estimate was a $40 million deal. Other filings show that two of Scape’s venture capital representatives resigned from its board, and were replaced by Facebook executives.
The company uses a cloud-based “Visual Positioning Service,” which matches images and video to 3D maps, to pinpoint location in cities. The tool provides the level of precision necessary, for example, to find a specific building on a city block, where GPS tools often stumble. The technology was designed chiefly to offer developers more accurate location tracking for augmented reality (AR) glasses, but it could also find applications in mobility, logistics, and robotics.
“Most 3D reconstruction pipelines are limited by the memory constraints of a given machine,” Scape says on its website. “Our Vision Engine is different, horizontally scaling to 100s of servers on demand, to support areas the size of entire cities.”
For Facebook, it seems most likely that they’re interested in using Scape’s “Vision Engine” for AR glasses, according to Engadget. The company has already invested in AR and VR platforms in its Oculus division. It launched an AR platform to the public in 2017, has used AR for its core Facebook app as well.
With technology from Scape, AR glasses could help users navigate by simply looking around at their surroundings. It could also improve the accuracy of Facebook’s location tracking, in check-ins for photos, videos, and other posts.
The acquisition also continues a trend of US tech giants, such as Google, quickly acquiring AI and machine learning startups in the UK.
Scape was founded in 2017, and is an alumni of the Entrepreneur First company building program, which also has acted as one of the company’s financial backers, alongside LocalGlobe, Mosaic Ventures, and Fly Ventures. Scape had raised $8 million in venture capital funding.
For now, Scape had only offered the service in London, but it had plans to expand to other cities before the acquisition.
Facebook ultimately confirmed the plans to Tech Crunch, but declined to provide any further detail, saying:
“We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans.”