The migration of virtual reality veterans to augmented reality continues. A new AR startup dubbed Artie is coming out of stealth mode today in Los Angeles with the aim of giving you artificial intelligence companions in your own home.
Armando Kirwin and Ryan Horrigan started the company to use artificial intelligence and augmented reality to build “emotionally intelligent avatars” as virtual companions for people. Those avatars would be visible anywhere that you can take your smartphone or AR gear, Horrigan said in an interview.
The startup has backing from a variety of investors, including YouTube cofounder Chad Hurley, Founders Fund, DCG, and others. But Kirwin said the company isn’t disclosing the amount of the investment yet.
The company’s software will enable content creators to bring virtual characters to life with its proprietary Wonderfriend Engine, which makes it easy to create avatar-to-consumer interactions that are lifelike and highly engaging. Kirwin said the company is working with major entertainment companies to get access to familiar characters from famous brands.
“Our ambitions is to unlock the world of intellectual property you are already familiar with,” said Kirwin, in an interview with VentureBeat. “You can bring them into your home and have compelling experiences with them.”
The company hopes to announce some relationships in the first quarter, Kirwin said.
Once created, the avatars then exist on an AR network where they can interact and converse with consumers and each other. It reminds me of Magic Leap’s Mica digital human demo, but so far Artie isn’t showing anything quite as fancy as that yet.
“The avatar will use AI to figure out whether you are happy or sad and that would guide it in terms of the response it should have,” Kirwin said. “Some developers could use this to create photoreal avatars or animated characters.”
Artie is also working on Instant Avatar technology to make its avatars shareable via standard hyperlinks, allowing them to be discovered on social media and other popular content platforms (i.e. in the bio of a celebrity’s Instagram account, or in the description of a movie trailer on YouTube).
Horrigan said that the team has 10 people, and it is hiring people with skills in AI, AR, and computer vision. One of the goals is to create avatars who are more believable because they can be inserted in the real world in places like your own home. The team has been working for more than a year.
“Your avatar can be ready, so you don’t have to talk to it to activate it,” Kirwin said. “It’s always on, and it’s really fast, even though it is cloud based. We can recognize seven emotional states so far, and 80 different common objects. That’s where the technology stands today.”
Horrigan was previously chief content officer of the Comcast-backed immersive entertainment startup Felix & Paul Studios, where he oversaw content and business development, strategy and partnerships.
Ryan and his team at Felix & Paul forged numerous partnerships with Fortune 500 companies and media conglomerates including Facebook, Google, Magic Leap, Samsung, Xiaomi, Fox and Comcast, and worked on projects with top brands and A-list talent such as NASA and Cirque du Soleil.
One of Felix & Paul’s big projects was a virtual reality tour of the White House with the Obamas. That project, The People’s House, won an Emmy Award for VR, as it captured the White House as the Obama family left it behind.
Prior to Felix & Paul, Horrigan was a movie studio executive at Fox/New Regency, where he oversaw feature film projects including Academy Award Best Picture Winner 12 Years A Slave. He began his career in the Motion Picture department at CAA and at Paramount Pictures. Ryan has given numerous talks, including at Ted, Cannes, Facebook, Google, Sundance, SXSW and throughout China. He holds a Bachelor’s in Film Studies and lives in Los Angeles, California.
Kirwin has focused on VR and AR in both Hollywood and Silicon Valley. He has helped create more than 20 notable projects for some of the biggest companies in the world. These projects have gone on to win four Emmy nominations and seven Webby nominations.
Prior to co-founding Artie, Kirwin helped create the first 4K streaming video on demand service, Odemax – which was later acquired by Red Digital Cinema. He was later recruited by Chad Hurley, cofounder and ex-CEO of YouTube, to join his private technology incubator in Silicon Valley.
Prior to his career in immersive entertainment, Kirwin worked on more than 50 projects, predominantly feature films, which include “The Book of Eli,” the first major motion picture shot in digital 4K. He also acted as consultant to vice president of physical production at Paramount Pictures.
Other investors include Cyan Banister (investing personally), The Venture Reality Fund, WndrCo, M Ventures, Metaverse Ventures, and Ubiquity6 CEO Anjney Midha.
Artie has already cemented partnerships with Google and Verizon for early experiments with its technology and is beginning to onboard major media companies, celebrities, influencers, and an emerging class of avatar-based entertainment creators.