NtechLab, a Surveillance Tech Startup Bags in $13M Investment

NtechLab, a startup that supports in analyzing footage recorded by Moscow’s 100,000 surveillance cameras, just bagged in an investment of over 1RUB billion ($13 million) to execute further global expansion.

What NtechLab do?

The five-year-old company sells software that recognizes faces, silhouettes, and actions on videos. The software can do this on a vast scale in real-time, enabling clients to react quickly to situations. It’s a major “differentiator” of the company, co-founder Artem Kukharenko told TechCrunch.

“There could be systems which can process, for example, 100 cameras. When there are a lot of cameras in a city, [these systems] connect 100 cameras from one part of the city, then disconnect them and connect another hundred cameras in another part of the city, so it’s not so interesting,” he suggested.

The latest round, financed by Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, and an undisclosed sovereign wealth fund from the Middle East, majorly contains more strategic as compared to financial importance. The company broke even last year with revenue reaching $8 million, three times the number from the previous year, and expects to execute similar growth by the end of 2020.

Nonetheless, the latest round will allow the startup to add new capabilities such as automatic detection of aggressive behavior and vehicle recognition as it looks for new clients in its key markets of the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South America. City contracts account for a major part of revenue generation for the firm; however, it has plans to woo non-government clients, such as those in the entertainment industry, finance, trade, and hospitality.

The company currently has clients in 30 cities across 15 countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) bloc, Middle East, South America, Southeast Asia, and Europe.

Potential Misuse of the Software

These customers may fulfill their requirements from a variety of hardware vendors featuring different graphic processing units (GPUs) to carry out computer vision tasks. As such, NtechLab requires making sure it’s constantly in tune with different GPU suppliers. Ten years ago, Nvidia was the go-to solution, recalled Kukharenko; however, rivals such as Intel and Huawei have cropped up in recent times.

The Moscow-based startup began its journey as consumer software that enabled users to find someone’s online profile by uploading a photo of the person. It later leveraged to reach to video and has since intrigued and attracted government clients keen to deploy facial recognition in law enforcement. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian government utilized NtechLab’s system to keep a check on large gatherings and implement access control.

Around the world, authorities are thriving to implement similar forms of public health monitoring and tracking for virus control. While these projects are usually doesn’t mean any harm, they inspire a much-required debate around privacy, discrimination, and other consequences brought by the scramble for large-scale data solutions. NtechLab’s view is that when utilized properly, video surveillance generally does more good as compared to harm.

Trust is the Key

“If you can monitor people quite [effectively], you don’t need to close all people in the city… The problem is people who don’t respect the laws. When you can monitor these people and [impose] a penalty on them, you can control the situation better,” argued Alexander Kabakov, the other co-founder of the company.

As it widens globally, NtechLab inevitably will come across customers who misuse or abuse its algorithms. While the company claimed to keep all customer data private and have no control over how its software is utilized, the company strives to “create a process that can be in compliance with local laws,” said Kukharenko.

“We vet our partners so we can trust them, and we know that they will not use our technology for bad purposes.”