AI a com­mer­cial ven­ture for Auck­land Univer­sity

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - NEWS -

Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence com­pany Soul Ma­chines was of­fi­cially launched this week after it at­tracted USD7.5 mil­lion in its ini­tial fi­nanc­ing round from Hong Kong-based ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Horizons Ven­tures, mak­ing it the Univer­sity’s big­gest Se­ries A fund rais­ing deal to date.

The com­pany is de­vel­op­ing a com­pletely new user in­ter­face be­tween hu­mans and their ma­chines, based on tech­nol­ogy cre­ated by Dr Mark Sa­gar and his team at the Auck­land Bio­engi­neer­ing In­sti­tute ( ABI) at the Univer­sity of Auck­land.

Dr Sa­gar won two academy awards for his work on the Avatar block­buster. He be­comes the CEO of Soul Ma­chines. He also heads the Bio­engi­neer­ing In­sti­tute’s Lab for An­i­mate Tech­nolo­gies.

“Our en­gi­neer­ing team will fo­cus on bring­ing hu­man life to tech­nol­ogy that is in­tel­li­gent, emo­tive and adap­tive. Our goal is to de­fine the user ex­pe­ri­ence for Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence sys­tems and plat­forms,” Dr Sa­gar says.

Auck­land UniSer­vices CEO Andy Shenk says Soul Ma­chines demon­strates the phe­nom­e­nal power that comes from the unique com­bi­na­tion of art, sci­ence and cre­ative in­sights that Dr Sa­gar and his team have pro­duced.

“In the same way, we at UniSer­vices be­lieve that Soul Ma­chines also demon­strates the unique power that comes from the com­bi­na­tion of world- class re­search at the Univer­sity of Auck­land and the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion ex­per­tise that we have built over al­most 30 years,” Dr Shenk says.

Soul Ma­chines will de­velop tech­nol­ogy in the rapidly ac­cel­er­at­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence sec­tor. Its life­like, emo­tion­ally re­spon­sive avatars will have the po­ten­tial to be­come the in­ter­faces be­tween hu­mans and ma­chines across a va­ri­ety of plat­forms.

The new com­pany is backed by Horizons Ven­tures, which were early in­vestors in Siri, ac­quired by Ap­ple, and Deep Mind, ac­quired by Google. Phil Chen from Horizons Ven­tures will join the Soul Ma­chines board.

Ex­pe­ri­enced New Zealand- based tech­nol­ogy en­tre­pre­neur Greg Cross has also joined Soul Ma­chines to launch the new com­pany and ac­cel­er­ate com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion.


Soul Ma­chines is a de­vel­oper of in­tel­li­gent, emo­tion­ally re­spon­sive hu­man like avatars as a user in­ter­face for Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence ( AI) plat­forms. The Univer­sity of Auck­land spin- out com­pany was founded based on the BabyX tech­nol­ogy cre­ated by Dr Sa­gar and his en­gi­neer­ing re­search team at the Univer­sity’s Lab­o­ra­tory for An­i­mate Tech­nolo­gies at 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.

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