6:00am PT by Carolyn Giardina
AI Start-Up Oben Raises $5 Million Led by Tencent
Oben, a Pasadena-based artificial intelligence start-up that’s targeting Hollywood, has raised $5 million in funding led by China’s Tencent Holdings, with participation from Li Ruigang, chairman of CMC and Fengshion Capital. The funding will be used to accelerate product development and brings Oben’s total funding to date to $13.7 million.
With backers including HTC Vive and Softbank Ventures Korea, Oben has started reaching out to Hollywood talent agencies with an eye toward creating digital "copies" of actors and celebrities for a variety of uses. For instance, Siri’s voice could be replaced by that of a famous actor or actress. Or a digital version of a popular comedian could greet you on your mobile — or appear in some iteration of virtual, augmented or mixed reality.
It has already started working with Korea-based talent management firm S.M. Entertainment to develop these for its roster — the likes of K-pop talent Kangta, BoA, TVXQ!, Super Junior, Girls’ Generation and SHINee. Oben and S.M. Entertainment also formed a joint venture, AI Stars Limited, a Hong Kong-based agency that will use Oben’s technology to create more of these AI-driven 3D avatars of celebrities for entertainment experiences.
Said Levin Yao, executive director of Tencent Investment: “As technology rapidly evolves and moves towards applications using AI, we are excited by Oben and their AI solution, which is poised to enrich user experiences across different online platforms. Oben’s vision of creating a new form of entertainment and content driven by celebrity AI is inspiring.”