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September 23, 2020

Facial recognition startup NtechLab scoops $15m for market expansion

By Robert Scammell

Computer vision startup NtechLab has raised $15m in funding from two international funds to develop its facial recognition product range and expand into new markets.

Founded in 2015, the Russian company creates facial recognition software that uses artificial intelligence and neural networks to identify faces, silhouettes and actions recorded on video.

NtechLab’s FindFace algorithm was originally launched as a consumer app, which allowed users to take a picture of someone and match it to a person’s social media profile on Russian site Vkontakte.

After fears that it could “bring an end to public anonymity”, it closed its consumer business. It’s facial recognition software is now used by governments and businesses for surveillance. It was used during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia to monitor crowds and has also aided the arrest of more than 100 people on the federal wanted persons list.

The company received backing from The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and sovereign wealth funds from the Middle East. NtechLab declined to share which sovereign wealth funds had contributed.

NtechLab said it plans to use the investment to develop automatic detection of “aggressive behaviour”. It is also looking to create vehicle recognition software, which it said could be used for tracking compliance with recycling procedures.

The funding will also be used to expand into the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Latin America markets. NtechLab also plans to create solutions that can be used in the entertainment industry, banking, hospitality and rade centres.

NtechLab technology has “significant” export potential

NtechLab’s technology has been used during the coronavirus pandemic to monitor people in cities. In Moscow, NtechLab’s live facial recognition software has been integrated into the city’s surveillance network in a deal worth at least $3.2m.

“Supporting advanced AI-based technologies is one of RDIF’s priorities, and one of the fund’s core competencies,” said Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund.

“The technology developed by NtechLab has significant potential to be exported to foreign markets and has attracted strong interest abroad. The use of biometric recognition systems in everyday life, such as at public events, in the implementation of new banking products, as well as a number of other areas, can help to significantly increase levels of security, including during the fight against the novel coronavirus infection.

“This investment by RDIF and our partners will support the launch of new products by a Russian company in the global market.”

The funding was announced on the sidelines of the “Digital Industry of Industrial Russia” conference, taking place this week in Nizhny Novgorod.

Civil liberty groups have consistently raised privacy concerns about the use of live facial recognition software. Backlash over surveillance software used at King’s Cross in London, UK, last year caused the developer to scrap its use and the Information Commissioner’s Office to launch an investigation.


Read more: Automatic facial recognition by South Wales Police ruled unlawful in Court of Appeal