Our journey to create Natural Intelligence

Artificial intelligence has been seen for decades as the answer to machine autonomy but it comes with too many limitations to offer a practical and useful solution. It has hit a bottleneck and it needs to go in a different direction. It will never overcome the challenges faced, it’s not about investment.

Opteran believes that if we want to create true machine autonomy we need to think differently and look to nature for the solution. Insects see, perceive, navigate and make decisions naturally. Opteran harnesses these evolved algorithms to make autonomous machines as robust and efficient as nature.

We call this approach Natural Intelligence

DEFINITION

Natural Intelligence is the solution to machine autonomy because it uses biology and computational neuroscience rather than data and data science to solve the problem. Allowing us to understand the only true example of working autonomy today – brains – developed over billions of years of evolution.

AT A GLANCE

US$10m

Our research into Natural Intelligence started in 2013 with US$10m in grant funding.

US$15m

Between 2020-2022 Opteran raised US$15m in seed funding to support our mission to build naturally intelligent machines.

Offices

Opteran is HQ’d in the UK with an office in London and its R&D Lab in Sheffield. We also have a US office in Boston Massachusetts and a partner in Japan.

In the news

Our journey

In the 2000s, neuroscientists started to propose modeling the human brain, in all its intricate detail. This started primarily with the Blue Brain project, running on IBM-provided Blue Gene supercomputers, and culminated in the US$1bn EU Flagship Human Brain Project.

James Marshall (left), together with co-founder, and CTO, Alex Cope (right), believed there was a simpler and more efficient way to start brain modeling. They embarked on a 10 year, USD $10m backed research project, to reverse-engineer the neural algorithms underlying insect behavior, and deploy these in silicon to control robots.

David Rajan (bottom), came on board to spin out the research and finance the build and commercialization of the first Natural Intelligence product. This was the foundation of Opteran

  • 2000sCognitive neuroscientists recognize behavioral complexity of insect brains; propose honeybee brain as a model system.
  • 2012Co-founder and CSO James Marshall wins US$1.3m Green Brain research grant - responding to IBM’s Blue Brain supercomputer-based project to model the human brain, James starts working with co-founder and CTO Alex Cope, modeling honeybee brains and simulating them on GPUs.
  • 2016James and Alex win US$6m Brains on Board research grant - responding to the growth of deep learning, the project aims to reverse-engineer insect neural circuits to provide brains for autonomous drones and robots, running on-board with no network using modern mobile GPU technology.
  • 2017First core patent from Alex and James’ work filed, on algorithms extracted from early honeybee visual processing systems.
  • 2018Internal development funding enables transfer of honeybee visual algorithm from GPU to FPGA.
  • 2019Alex and James begin working with incoming CEO and co-founder, David Rajan, to spinout from the University of Sheffield.
  • 2020Hire first two employees, Matt Watson and Marcos Negre on a grant.
  • 2020Company incorporates and COVID hits.
  • 2020First seed close of ~US$3m.
  • 2021Files for a patent on its core image stabilization technology; US patent for its visual processing algorithm granted.
  • 2022File for a patent on core navigation algorithm.
  • 2022James co-authors an influential review in Science Robotics, on the future of insect-inspired AI.
  • 2022Second seed close of ~US$12m. Team expands to ~40 employees.
  • 2023Open new office in London, England and Boston Massachusetts

Opteran

Opteran is named after ‘Hymenoptera’. Hymenoptera is a large order of insects, comprising sawflies, wasps, bees, and ants.

Over 150,000 living species of Hymenoptera have been described, in addition to over 2,000 extinct ones.

It is derived from the ancient Greek words for hymen, meaning membrane, and pteron, meaning wing.

LICENSING

Opteran patented algorithms can only be licensed for non-kinetic applications outside of the kill chain. We don’t support the weaponization of our technology. It is a restriction in our licensing.

INVESTORS

Leadership AND BOARD

David Rajan

CEO and co-founder

ex- Oracle, GlobalLogic and Marakon

Sean Mitchell

Chairman

ex- CEO Movidius (Intel)

Dr. Alex Cope

CTO and co-founder

Pioneer in brain biomimicry

Professor James Marshall

CSO & co-founder

ex-Sony, Research Pioneer

Ross McMaster

Company Secretary

SUEL

Ed Stacey

Investor

IQ Capital

Dr. Alex Formstone

COO/CFO

ex-Marakon

Sebastian von Ribbentrop

Investor

Join Capital

Charlie Rance

CPO

ex-Arrival, Five.ai, Tesla

Dr. Matt Watson

Chief Engineer

Control systems expert

Marion Bernard

Investor

Northern Gritstone

Rafferty Jackson

Non-Executive Director

ex-Beats, New Vista SPAC

Academic Advisory Board

Academic Advisory Board: We are advised by some of the best academic minds in robotics and neuroscience.

Professor Barbara Webb

University of Edinburgh

Pioneer of insect-inspired robotics

Barbara pioneered the field of insect-inspired robotics from the mid 1990s onwards, both using robotics to understand the biology better and using an improved understanding of biology to advance robotics technology. Her research interests have spanned from the biomechanics of locomotion, to perception and navigation, and now include object manipulation.

Professor Holger Krapp

Imperial College London

Pioneer of insect visual navigation

Holger has worked on visually guided navigation in insects since his thesis on optic flow estimation in flies in the mid-1990s, working at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics and the University of Cambridge, among others. More recently he has collaborated with roboticists to bring the insights from his research into technological demonstrators.

Professor Guido de Croon

Delft University of Technology

Pioneer in application of insect-inspired flight

Guido has worked on the control and application of small air vehicles for 15 years, spanning platform design, such as the 20g DelFly flapping drone, through optic-flow-based flight control, to mapping with swarms of micro-UAVs. In 2019 his team won the USD $1m first prize at the AI Robotic Racing World Championships, organized by Lockheed Martin and the Drone Racing League.

Professor Andrew Barron

Macquarie University

Pioneer in comparative cognition & insect brain structure

Andrew is a neuroethologist who has worked on bees and other insects for over 20 years, including at the Universities of Cambridge and Sydney. He specializes in comparative cognition, examining brain structure and function across species, and proposed an influential theory of how the insect central complex may enable subjective experience, or consciousness.

CAREERS

Interested to join us - please reach out we’d love to hear from you.