Auckland University pumps more funding into Soul Machines

Soul Machines was spun out of the University of Auckland in July 2016

The University of Auckland has upped its investment in its spinout company Soul Machines, which has produced a digital-created human face able to speak text with intonation and facial expressions.

The university's commercial arm, Uniservices — which already owns 15 percent of Soul Machines — has pumped in $US2m as part of a $US15m+ funding round announced recently by the company. The funding came from the $20m University of Auckland Inventors Fund.

Soul Machines was spun out of the University of Auckland in July 2016 with a Series A investment that included Hong Kong-based venture capital firm Horizons Venture, an early investor in Siri, acquired by Apple, and in Deep Mind, acquired by Google. 

The University's latest investment follows an unspecified investment in Soul Machines by Daimler Financial Services, announced earlier this month.  Daimler became a Soul Machines' customer in February this year. It is using Soul Machines' avatar, dubbed Sarah, to provide personalised assistance to customers for a range of services including car financing, leasing and insurance.

The University of Auckland Inventors Fund was formed in 2016, with capital provided from UniServices’ retained earnings from its commercialisation business. UniServices says it is designed to fill a gap in the market for very early-stage capital in deep-tech IP based businesses, and to foster academic and student entrepreneurship.

"The Fund is typically the first investor in University-derived start-ups. It syndicates with local and global investors, including Horizon Ventures, Brandon Capital and the IP Group, that collectively have over $1bn of capital," UniServices said.

Soul Machines describers itself as "a ground-breaking high-tech company of AI researchers, neuroscientists, psychologists, artists and innovative thinkers; re-imagining how we connect with machines."

 It creates "lifelike, emotionally responsive artificial humans with personality and character that allow machines to talk to humans literally face-to-face."

Vodafone names its digital assistant Kiri

Vodafone announced earlier this month that it would deploy a digital human assistant from another New Zealand company, FaceMe, in its retail stores later this year.  Now, in a move that seems designed to maximise interest in that plan, Vodafone has announced that the digital assistant will be named Kiri. Her 'intelligence' comes from the IBM Watson conversational platform.



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