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Paolo Pirjanian is not only a successful robotics entrepreneur, he’s also a savvy investor. That’s part of the reason why the Embodied Inc. founder and CEO was recently named a venture partner at Calibrate Ventures, a California-based early stage venture capital firm.
Today, Pirjanian is putting his investment chops to the test. Embodied acquired Kami Computing, an early-stage startup focused on conversational AI, machine learning, and natural language generation (NLG). Embodied developed the Moxie companion robot that is designed to help kids with social-emotional learning.
Kami’s machine learning scientists and engineers are joining Embodied to integrate their technology into Embodied’s proprietary SocialX platform. SocialX is the platform developed by Embodied’s in-house team to enable children to engage with Moxie through natural interactions such as body language, conversation, facial expressions and more.
Kami was founded by Tel Aviv-based Guy de Beer and London-based Dr. David Levy, who together with a team of 12 scientists, spent the last two years developing a generative voice-based conversational agent. Its product is an artificial persona capable of human-level open domain conversations, with a natural tone of voice, long-term memory, advanced cognition, and emotions. This conversational technology passed the Turing Test in October 2019, an artificial intelligence test to determine whether computers can “think” as humans would.
Pirjanian told The Robot Report that incorporating Kami’s technology will strengthen Moxie’s conversational AI capabilities to include memory of past conversations context, consistent personality, common sense reasoning and common knowledge.
“The state of the art in conversational AI is Amazon Alexa’s challenge to create 20 minutes of general conversation. It is something that the entire research and business community is working towards,” he said. “Embodied has now demonstrated with actual customers that we can maintain an average of 25 minutes of engagement with the user … and this is every day for more than three months (and still going). This is unprecedented.”
Pirjanian added that Kami’s technology and expertise will help Embodied accelerate its technology roadmap.
“We are creating an entirely new category that, for now, looks believable to a 5-year-old and in the foreseeable future will be believable for anyone and everyone,” he said. “That is the goal that we believe is more relevant than the Turing test to have social impact.”
Embodied started shipping Moxie to customers on March 19, 2021. At the time, Pirjanian said there were 10,000 families on the waiting list for Moxie. The companion robot market hasn’t been kind to companies over the years, but Pirjanian said developing Moxie “is a worthwhile mission and it will change the world for the better.”
“The next big wave in technology will be driven by human-machine interfaces,” said Pirjanian. “Kami’s technology helps us continue developing category-defining technology to create social emotional robots that have the power to fight the loneliness epidemic and change people’s lives.”
Pirjanian is well regarded in robotics circles. One of his previous companies, Evolution Robotics, was acquired by iRobot in 2012 for $74 million. He joined iRobot as CTO, but left after three years. He was the second-ever guest on The Robot Report Podcast, joining us in June 2020. He discussed the technical and business challenges involved with building Moxie, including creating seamless human-robot interaction for children, content creation for Moxie, and raising funding after several social robotics companies failed. Certainly much has changed for Embodied since Pirjanian was on the podcast, but you can listen to the episode below.