“Hello Furhat”, “Hello Balderton!”
Like many, Alexa has found her way into our home. Like many, I suspect, there was plenty of novelty value but we have so far found only a few use cases that endure. Regardless, the success of the Amazon Echo and related products has really shone a light on voice as an interface. In parallel, the first wave of chatbots has hinted at an acceptable conversational interface for many products and services. However, text conversations and memory-light (forgetting earlier parts of a conversation) a-tonal voice interactions are not the way effective conversation takes place between 2 or more people who don’t know each other well. They are ignorant of the situational aspects of the human part of the interaction; they ignore body language, tone of voice, facial expressions; they often ignore the earlier parts of a conversation. In reality these elements have a huge part to play in an effective conversation.
This is true in many many settings. How do we build machine interfaces that can help people with neurological problems? How can a machine help train someone to interview well for their next job? How does a humanoid entertain a group of children while they wait impatiently in a queue? And so on and ultimately how will the future of in-home computer interaction evolve to also be socially and contextually aware?
Six months ago we were introduced to an intriguing company called Furhat Robotics. They claimed to be building the answers to all of these questions and more. We thought those answers were pretty good. Samer Al Moubayed (a Syrian living in Stockholm, yet again showing the wonderful diversity of the founders we get the chance to work with) studied his PhD in Social Robotics at KTH University, which houses one of the best global departments in this subject matter. Samer and his co-founders and colleagues have already gotten Furhat a long way — they have build a social robotics OS which they are working on becoming a key standard for the industry; on top of this they have their own flagship emotive robot (“Furhat”). Furhat’s are in the hands of neurologists, travel companies, researchers, government institutions, banks and many more.
The Furhat head is a remarkably brilliant piece of creativity. Through a combination of micro-projectors, smart face creation, sensors and a few other tricks Furhat is able to have a highly expressive face that conveys genuine emotion. Coupled with multiple input sensors and running on the Furhat OS, the dialogue with Furhat is compelling and addictive. There is nothing like meeting Furhat in person but these videos give a bit of an impression.
We are excited to have the chance to join Samer and the team on their journey and to co-invest with our friends at LocalGlobe.