Furhat Robotics, the start-up that is developing socially intelligent robots, has raised $2.5 million in seed funding from Balderton Capital and LocalGlobe.
The Furhat robot is a ground-breaking machine that mimics human personality, gesture and intonation. Its face uses computer animation and projection to create expression, while its “brain” is built on a social intelligence platform that can be programmed to participate in socially-aware interactions with humans.
The Swedish start-up was founded by four researchers from Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology, who have spent years developing a social robotics platform that combines advanced conversational artificial intelligence with robotics technology. Their mission is to create a new interface between humans and technology that will be as groundbreaking an interface as the smartphone and as revolutionary a software platform as the Windows operating system.
“Furhat’s vision is to build a computer interface that enables people to interact with machines the same way we interact with each other. 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,” co-founder and CEO, Samer Al Moubayed, said.
“Furhat can potentially be used in thousands of different ways. To enable Furhat as a platform, we are building an Operating System for conversational robots, and we expect people will come up with amazing ideas and ways to use it that have the potential to disrupt many markets.”
The robot and the software platform are already being used by the likes of Honda, Intel, Merck, Toyota, and KPMG.
Honda is developing Furhat as a conversational tool for the elderly in smart home environments, while Merck is using Furhat to develop cognitive training and rehabilitation aides for patients with multiple sclerosis.
UK accountancy firm KPMG is working with Furhat to build the financial advisor interface of the future.
“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.”
The potential early applications for Furhat include education and training, therapy and social care, customer service, and in entertainment. It is currently being used by the Swedish employment agency to help train people for job interviews and as a teaching assistant in several Stockholm schools.
Daniel Waterhouse, partner at Balderton led the investment. “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 centre of the next jump in interaction,” Waterhouse said. As part of the deal, Waterhouse will be joining Furhat’s board to advise the start-up as it aims to grow further.
“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.”
Furhat Robotics aims to double in size by recruiting more engineers, PhDs and managerial staff. The company is also working on new technology in social robotics and artificial intelligence.
“Technology and robotics are fast becoming part of our daily lives. The Furhat platform gives an early insight into the adaptability and flexibility of robotics that is fast inspiring other businesses in multiple sectors,”LocalGlobe partner, Saul Klein, said. “The potential for interaction between robots and humans is huge and Furhat is developing social artificial intelligence in a groundbreaking way.