Tencent leads $10 million investment in SenSat to create real-time ‘simulated realities’


SenSat, a geospatial technology startup that digitizes real-world places for infrastructure projects, has raised $10 million in a series A round of funding led by Chinese tech titan Tencent, with participation from Russian investment firm Sistema Venture Capital.

Founded out of London in 2015, SenSat is setting out to help organizations, such as those working in the construction, mining, and energy industries, create so-called “digital twins” of locations relevant to projects they’re working on. The company said that it translates the real world into a version that can be understood by machines and thus suitable for training artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

These digital twins are constructed using various different data-types, including real-time data generated from wearables, physical sensors connected to assets on the ground, traffic data, and 3D image data captured from satellites, Lidar, and drones. Indeed, SenSat is actually one of the U.K.’s biggest drone data providers, due in part to its Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) license that enables it to fly fixed-wing drones up to 12km away from the pilot — in other words, far beyond the controller’s line-of-sight.

Above: Screenshot from SenSat’s Mapp platform

Powering all of this is a cloud-based platform SenSat calls Mapp, which is used to recreate the real world in digital form through ingesting all those data sets that are connected via their  location. The upshot of this is that companies can access a virtual version of a specific location — such as a construction site — and everything that’s happening their at any given moment.

“When combined in the right way, the sum of these data inputs create value larger than the individual parts,” James Dean, SenSat cofounder and CEO told VentureBeat. “This information turns static representations of the real world into dynamic representations which describe accurately the environment of what is happening in the real world as well as the geometry.”

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This could allow project managers, for example, to track progress and garner insights of what is happening on the ground, or even to generate a predictive maintenance analysis of equipment that’s being used on-site.

SenSat’s focus on infrastructure companies taps a broader trend that has seen technology companies increasingly focus their efforts on tackling the much-maligned inefficiencies that have blighted industries such as construction. San Francisco-based OpenSpace, for example, recently raised $14 million for an AI platform that automatically creates navigable 360-degree photos of construction sites. And Cape Analytics has raised sizable funding for a platform that meshes computer vision with geospatial imagery for insurance companies to better evaluate properties

At the time of writing, SenSat has mapped 17 U.K. cities, which it said helps with its R&D around its spatial big data indexing algorithms, change-detection, and 3D computer vision. “All of these applications eventually find their way to infrastructure use cases,” Dean continued. “One of SenSat’s goals is to ‘advance machine understanding of real world context,’ and cities are a good test-bed for this, as there is a lot of varied data describing what is happening within them.”

To date, SenSat said it has worked with a number of notable infrastructure-focused bodies in the U.K., including Heathrow Airport and property developer Berkeley Homes, for which it recreated the local environment ahead of a development project to build 10,000 new homes.

Above: SenSat founders Harry Atkinson and James Dean

Prior to now, SenSat had raised around $5 million, and with its latest cash injection it said that it plans to triple its London-based team to 90 people within the next year, with a particular focus on data scientists, mathematicians, software developers and “creative problem solvers,” as the company puts it. The company is also looking to grow its presence internationally.

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In the coming months, SenSat said that it plans to launch in the U.S., with a focus on Nevada, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona — “all of which have high infrastructure capital spend and existing clients,” Dean noted. Indeed, SenSat already claims nine U.S. companies as clients, and several more as multinationals, which will open up SenSat to other markets over the next few years.

Big data

SenSat constitutes part of a growing trend across the technology spectrum: the meshing of large swathes of disparate data to generate real and meaningful insights. Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, for example, recently spun out a new company called Replica, which is designed to help planners create ‘virtual populations’ using de-identified location data to figure out how people move around cities. Elsewhere, another company called Near pools datasets from third-party sources to help organizations determine behavioral attributes of people in the real world, while Streetlight Data aggregates mobile app data to help cities measure traffic. And then there is PredictHQ, which taps data from global events to help companies such as Uber and airlines forecast demand surges.

For SenSat, it’s also worth highlighting Tencent’s lead role in its latest funding round. As part of a company restructure last year, Tencent launched a new business unit called the “cloud and smart industries group,” which is effectively responsible for its industrial internet strategy spanning cloud computing and AI. At its core, it’s all about working with industries including retail, medical, education, and transportation to make them work smarter.

“We are delighted with our investment into SenSat, which aligns well with the ambitions of Tencent’s Cloud and Smart Industries Group,” noted Tencent’s chief European representative Dr. Ling Ge, who is also now a member of SenSat’s board. “We believe SenSat is well positioned to introduce mass digital automation to offline industries that have not yet engaged in the digital revolution; and we look forward to SenSat applying its platform to a broadening range of smart industries.”

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