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Sheffield spinout Opteran raises £10m for insect-inspired AI


Sheffield university spinout Opteran has raised $12m (£9.77m) in funding to expand its machine autonomy natural intelligence technology.

The Sheffield-based firm has a unique approach to autonomous machinery, trying to emulate the brain processes of insects to give AI chips the advantage of what the company describes as 600 million years of evolution.

“By mimicking nature’s genius to enable machines to move like natural creatures we are redefining the global market for machine autonomy,” said David Rajan, CEO, Opteran.

The company claims it is setting the new standard for AI and that its technology has applications across a multitude of industries.

“We expect Opteran Natural Intelligence to become the standard solution for autonomy anywhere on the ground or in the air, on any machine, large or ultra-small, because it combines such sophisticated natural brain capabilities in a light-weight, efficient package,” Rajan added.

The funding round was led by Join Capital, with additional funding from IQ Capital, Northern Gritstone, Seraphim, Episode 1 and Schauenburg Ventures.

“Opteran has built the AI technology required to transform autonomous machines beyond today’s limited use in restricted scenarios to enable more widespread adoption,” said Sebastian von Ribbentrop, founding partner, Join Capital.

“We don’t often see companies with a vision and product of this magnitude, and it is clear to us that Opteran Natural Intelligence will be the differentiator for every sector implementing autonomy in machines. We’re thrilled to have this type of global disruptor in our portfolio.”

The new funding will also support Opteran’s goals of expanding into international markets.

The company previously raised £2.1m in a funding round back in November 2020.

Northern Gritstone, which like Opteran was formed as a spinout from the University of Sheffield – as well as Leeds and Manchester universities – has been investing heavily into northern startups. It recently raised £215m to invest in the burgeoning tech hub of Northern England.

Northern Gritstone is chaired by former Treasury minister and chief economist at Goldman Sachs, Lord O’Neill.