ObEN, which uses artificial intelligence-powered tools to create avatars that look and sound like real people, announced it has raised $5 million in strategic investment from Tencent so that it can enter the AI celebrity scene.
According to Tech Crunch, Li Ruigang, chairman of CMC and Fengshion Capital, also participated in the round. ObEN, which recently graduated from HTC’s Vive X virtual reality accelerator, has raised nearly $13 million to date.
The AI-powered technology takes a photo and audio snippet and creates a “virtual celebrity” that looks like the celeb and talks in a familiar tone. In the future, users might even be able to ask their favorite stars for advice and receive some AI wisdom in return.
With this latest round of funding, ObEN appears to be moving beyond helping VR gamers make more accurate avatars to the AI celebrity world, capitalizing on the popularity of things like mask filters and Snap’s Bitmoji figures to bring celebrity avatars into augmented reality experiences.
While some VR companies have used heavy resources to create volumetric scans of public figures, ObEN wants to achieve similar results with a specific focus on the faces, which could make creating celebrity-focused content easier for the startup.
In addition, with platforms like Apple’s ARKit launching soon, ObEN will have millions of phones to serve up its little assistants. And Tech Crunch explained that the Tencent partnership makes sense for ObEN, which is watching the development of AR and VR usage in Asian markets closely. In April, the startup showcased a demo of WeChat services integrated into VR.