DarwinAI acquired by Apple amid Big Tech arms race

Kitchener-Waterloo startup’s customers have included Lockheed Martin.

Apple has reportedly scooped up Kitchener-Waterloo startup DarwinAI.

According to unnamed individuals who spoke to Bloomberg, Apple acquired the startup earlier this year, and dozens of DarwinAI staff have joined Apple’s artificial intelligence (AI) division. As of press time, DarwinAI’s website is down, and neither the startup nor Apple have publicly confirmed the news. Bloomberg’s report did not mention the purchase price of the deal.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, multiple sources familiar with DarwinAI confirmed to BetaKit that Apple reached a deal to acquire the startup. One confirmed that the acquisition has now closed and that Apple has acquired the entire company—including DarwinAI’s employees, tech, and intellectual property.

Founded in 2017, DarwinAI’s platform applies AI to visual quality inspection processes for manufacturers, with a goal of improving product quality and production efficiency. The startup’s patented explainability platform was built under the guidance of University of Waterloo professor and Canada AI research chair Alexander Wong. 

According to his LinkedIn, Wong joined Apple as director machine learning research in January. Sheldon Fernandez, who has led DarwinAI since January 2018, is still listed as the startup’s CEO according to his LinkedIn page at press time.

DarwinAI has worked with a number of Fortune 500 corporations in the past on various AI projects such as Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, BMW, Audi, and Intel, among others.

The startup has raised north of $20 million CAD during its existence, with its most recently announced fundraising totalling $8 million in 2022. Its backers include BDC Capital via its Deep Tech Fund, Inovia Capital, Honeywell Ventures, and Obvious Ventures.

Responding to questions from Bloomberg, Apple said it “buys smaller technology companies from time to time” but does not discuss its plans.

Apple has been looking to up its AI game in the last year, albeit more slowly than its big tech counterparts. Separate reporting from Bloomberg noted that the company has built its own large language model and later created an internal chatbot dubbed “Apple GPT” to test out the model.

BetaKit has reached out to DarwinAI and Apple for comment.

With files from Josh Scott.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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