Furhat Robotics, a company working to combine conversational artificial intelligence with robotics technology to develop social robots, secured $2.5 million in seed funding from venture capital investors Balderton Capital and LocalGlobe.
“This funding will provide us with the muscle to bring Furhat to a new level and engage in substantial commercial partnerships with industry leaders that are as committed as we are to empower people to access and interact with technology and information in more human and social manner,” co-founder & CEO Samer Al Moubayed said in a press release.
In addition, Balderton partner Daniel Waterhouse joined Furhat’s board of directors.
“We have long been obsessed with the development in human-machine interaction. As humans are beginning to get comfortable with one-step non-emotive voice communications with machines, we are excited to be supporting Furhat who are at the center of the next jump in interaction,” he said. “Furhat is already being used as a platform for some very important (and some fun) ways for humans to have a more natural and impactful interaction with technology. We are delighted to be backing such an exceptional team on their journey to make their platform an industry standard.”
The Furhat robot can mimic human personality, gesture and intonation. Computer animation and projection create the robot’s faceial expressions, and its brain uses a social intelligence platform that allows it to socially interact with humans.
Its main applications currently are education and training, therapy and social care, customer service and entertainment. A series of companies – including Honda, Intel, Merck and KPMG – are using Furhat for a range of social purposes such as a job interview trainer, a teaching assistant in schools, a conversation tool for the elderly and a cognitive training and rehabilitation aid.
“Furhat’s vision is to build a computer interface that enables people to interact with machines the same way we interact with each other,” Al Moubayed said. “We believe social robotics will be as disruptive as the smart phone or the PC, and we are at the very early days of a technology that will allow us to interact with machines in a more human like manner. Furhat can potentially be used in thousands of different ways.”
Preceding the investment, Furhat entered into partnerships with research universities and global businesses. The company is also planning to double its size by recruiting engineers, PhDs and managerial staff while developing new technology in the AI and social robotics space.