AUCKLAND, NZ, November 23, 2016 – Soul Machines, a developer of intelligent, emotionally responsive avatars, today announced it has raised $7.5 million USD in a Series A financing round led by Horizons Ventures with Iconiq Capital. This investment will allow Soul Machines to deliver on its vision of humanizing technology to create intelligent and emotionally responsive, human-like avatars that augment and enrich the user experience for customers and markets adopting Artificial Intelligence-based platforms.
Soul Machines, which formally launches as a result of this investment, is built on the technology behind Baby X, the first avatar created by the company’s founder and CEO Dr. Mark Sagar – a two time Oscar-winning scientist – and his engineering research team at the Laboratory for Animate Technologies based in the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI), University of Auckland.
“Mark’s work on Baby X is leading the way in the development of a completely new interaction model between humans and machines,” says Phil Chen of Horizons Ventures. “With the rapid acceleration of intelligent assistants and productivity applications using deep learning techniques, Mark and his team provide an emotional and social reasoning platform to existing and developing intelligence in the AI industry.”
Previously the originator of the Vive, Phil Chen of Horizons Ventures joins Soul Machines as executive chairman. With a proven track record of early investments in disruptive AI technology like Apple’s SIRI, Waze and Spotify, Chen and Horizons Ventures understand the fast-moving AI market and will be key advisors in driving mass adoption of emotionally responsive avatars across markets.
“Mark and his research team have wowed leading technology influencers around the world with Baby X,” said Dr. Andy Shenk, CEO of Auckland UniServices, the Technology Commercialization Company of the University of Auckland. “Horizons Ventures was introduced to the technology on a recent tour of the University and was so impressed the team made the decision to invest almost immediately. Horizons Ventures makes for the perfect investment partner with their track record in Artificial Intelligence and AR/VR.”
Experienced New Zealand-based technology entrepreneur Greg Cross, with a 20-year track record in building technology companies in Asia Pacific and North America, has also joined Soul Machines as part of the transaction to launch the new company and accelerate commercialisation.
Dr. Sagar says, “It’s a really exciting time for the Soul Machines team with both the investment led by Horizons Ventures and commercial leadership with Greg Cross in place. Now, our engineering team can focus on building core technology that will bring human life to technology that is intelligent, emotive and adaptive. Our goal is to define the user experience for AI systems and platforms.”
As a result of the investment, Dr. Sagar and his research team now make up the newly formed Soul Machines brand, and Auckland UniServices has reassigned ownership of all Intellectual Property and associated research contracts to Soul Machines in return for a shareholding in the new company.
About Soul Machines
Soul Machines is a developer of intelligent, emotionally responsive avatars that augment and enrich the user experience for Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms. The University of Auckland spinout company was built on the Baby X technology created by Dr. Mark Sagar and his engineering research team at the University’s Laboratory for Animate Technologies based in the Auckland Bioengineering Institute. The company is venture backed, with an investment led by Hong Kong-based Horizons Ventures, a leading artificial intelligence and virtual reality investor.