It’s a technology called platooning, and it could be safer and more efficient than regular truck-driving, but easier to implement than full-on robo trucks.
Want to star in your favorite memes and movie scenes? Upload a selfie to Morphin, choose your favorite GIF and your face is grafted in to create a personalized copy you can share anywhere. Become Tony Stark as he suits up like Iron Man. Drop the mic like Obama, dance like Drake or slap your mug on Fortnite characters.
Now after three years in stealth developing image-mapping technology, Morphin is ready to launch its put-you-in-a-GIF maker. While it might look like just a toy, investors see real business potential. Morphin raised $1 million last summer from Betaworks, the incubator that spawned Giphy, plus Founders Fund, Precursor, Shrug Capital and Boost.vc’s accelerator.
“We believe in the future you’ll be able to be the main character in your own film. Imagine a super hero movie where you’re the main protagonist?,” co-founder Loic Ledoux asks. “That sounded like science fiction a few years ago and now with AI and computer vision we definitely see our tech going there.”
Ledoux also wants to reclaim faceswaps as something fun rather than a weapon for misinformation. “Deepfakes brought something pretty negative to computer vision. But it’s not all bad. It’s about how you use the tech to give people a new tool for self expressions and storytelling.” And since Morphin re-generates the whole clip from scratch with CGI animation, they look right at a glance, but clearly aren’t manipulated copies of the original video designed to fool anyone.
Morphin started three years ago with the intention to build personalized avatars for games and VR so you could be a FIFA soccer player or Skyrim knight. Ledoux had started a 3D printing company to explore opportunities in scanning and modeling when he saw a chance to connect your real and virtual faces. He teamed up with his co-founder Nicholas Heriveaux, who’d spent 13 years working on 3D tech while modding games like Grand Theft Auto to insert his avatar and assets.
What they quickly recognized was that “People were just reacting to themselves on the screen,” ignoring the gameplay, Ledoux recalls. “Being able to see yourself as a hero was the underlying sentiment, so we focused on video completely.” Recognizable GIFs became its preferred medium, as they combine familiarity and the ability to convey complex emotions with a template that’s easy to personalize so they stand out.
Morphin’s tech no longer requires 3D scanning hardware and it works with just a regular selfie. You just snap a headshot, select a GIF from its iOS or Android app’s library and a few seconds later you have a CGI version of yourself in the scene (with no watermark) that you can export and post. “We wanted it to be super straightforward because we wanted people to relate to the content,” Ledoux notes. Over 1 million scenes have been created by 50,000 beta users, and each time a celebrity shares one of the GIFs Morphin has been sending them for marketing, scores of their followers demand to know which app they were using.
Morphin’s nine-person French team will have to keep innovating to stay ahead of avatar-making competitors like the ubiquitous Snapchat Bitmoji, Genies, Moji Edit and Mirror AI. Facebook, Microsoft and Google all have launched or are building their own avatar creators. But these typically live as 2D stickers or 3D AR animations you overlay on the real world. By using GIFs as a canvas, Morphin takes the pressure off your visage looking perfect and instead emphasizes the message you’re trying to get across.
The challenge will be for Morphin to become a consistent part of people’s communication stack. It’s easy to imagine playing with it and posting a few GIFs. But iconic new GIFs don’t emerge each day and without a social network to stay for, Morphin is at risk of becoming merely a forgotten tool. The app might need TikTok-style challenges like submitting the best personalized GIF to match a prompt or a GIF browsing feed to keep people coming back.
Morphin isn’t racing to monetize yet, but sees a chance to sell longer premium video scenes à la carte or as an unlimited subscription. Ledoux eventually hopes to unlock new forms of storytelling beyond existing GIFs. There’s also a chance for Morphin to highlight sponsored clips from upcoming movies or TV shows. “In the long-term we’re more interested in the analogy of Lil Miquela and how people are interacting with digital characters,” Ledoux explains, citing a virtual pop star whose developer Brud recently raised at a $125 million valuation.
One of the most exciting things about Morphin is that it will allow people to take the spotlight no matter how they look. Often times certain races, genders and looks are unfairly excluded from starring in today’s most popular media. But Morphin could let the underrepresented take their rightful place as stars of the screen.
Featured image via MannyNotFound
Older Android devices—of which there are over 100 million still in use—will remain exposed.
The latest penalty—stemming from how Google previously displayed search results on other websites—probably won’t act as a deterrent, and critics want more.
Stanford professor and former Google employee Fei-Fei Li is the force behind the new Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence.
Skymind, a Y Combinator-incubated AI platform that aims to make deep learning more accessible to enterprises, today announced that it has raised an $11.5 million Series A round led by TransLink Capital, with participation from ServiceNow, Sumitomo’s Presidio Ventures, UpHonest Capital and GovTech Fund. Early investors Y Combinator, Tencent, Mandra Capital, Hemi Ventures, and GMO Ventures, also joined the round/ With this, the company has now raised a total of $17.9 million in funding.
The inclusion of TransLink Capital gives a hint as to how the company is planning to use the funding. One of TransLink’s specialties is helping entrepreneurs develop customers in Asia. Skymind believes that it has a major opportunity in that market, so having TransLink lead this round makes a lot of sense. Skymind also plans to use the round to build out its team in North America and fuel customer acquisition there.
“TransLink is the perfect lead for this round, because they know how to make connections between North America and Asia,” Skymind CEO Chris Nicholson told me. “That’s where the most growth is globally, and there are a lot of potential synergies. We’re also really excited to have strategic investors like ServiceNow and Sumitomo’s Presidio Ventures backing us for the first time. We’re already collaborating with ServiceNow, and Skymind software will be part of some powerful new technologies they roll out.”
It’s no secret that enterprises know that they have to adapt AI in some form but are struggling with figuring out how to do so. Skymind’s tools, including its core SKIL framework, allow data scientists to create workflows that take them from ingesting the data to cleaning it up, training their models and putting them into production. The promise here is that Skymind’s tools eliminate the gap that often exists between the data scientists and IT.
“The two big opportunities with AI are better customer experiences and more efficiency, and both are based on making smarter decisions about data, which is what AI does,” said Nicholson. “The main types of data that matter to enterprises are text and time series data (think web logs or payments). So we see a lot of demand for natural-language processing and for predictions around streams of data, like logs.”
It’s worth noting that Skymind is also the company behind Deeplearning4j, one of the most popular open-source AI tools for Java. The company is also a major contributor to the Python-based Keras deep learning framework.
Tech has a bad reputation for pulling money out of musicians’ pockets, but Splice is changing that. The audio sample marketplace and music production collaboration tool has now paid out $15 million to artists since 2013, doubling in the last year. Splice lets musicians sell their sounds for royalty-free use, and songs by Eminem, Ariana Grande and Marshmello that were powered by those samples have topped the charts. Splice charges $7.99 per month for unlimited access to its array of 3 million synthesizers, drum hits, vocal flares and other sounds. Despite being designed for serious musicians, Splice’s suite of tools now has 2.5 million users, up from 1.5 million a year ago.
“Music is going through a beautiful moment,” says Steve Martocci, Splice’s co-founder and CEO who formerly built and sold GroupMe. “The tailwinds from the success of streaming are great. As more people realize how big the market it, how much people want to create music, there’s a huge opportunity here.”
Now Union Square Ventures and True Ventures are seizing on that opportunity, co-leading a $57.5 million Series C for Splice. “It’s all about scale,” Martocci tells me. “We’re investing in ourselves. Continuing to build new products. Continuing to work with bigger artists. We think there’s so much about the creative process and ecosystem of musicians that needs to be fixed. We want to diversify the content available so all artists in all genres feel like we have what they need.”
The round, which includes DFJ Growth, Flybridge, Lerer Hippeau, Liontree, Founders Circle Capital and Matt Pincus, brings Splice to $104.5 million in total funding. Splice wouldn’t disclose the valuation, but using the industry standard of selling 20 percent equity for a Series C, Splice could be valued in the ballpark of $285 million. That would make it one of the top music startups that isn’t selling streaming, tickets or hardware. Its success has also begun to draw competition from companies like Native Instruments, which launched its Sounds.com marketplace last year.
Splice’s subscription revenue is pooled and then doled out to artists based on whose samples got the most downloads. Creators range from bedroom tinkerers to Drake’s Grammy-winning producer Boi-1da. Martocci confirms that artists receive the majority of Splice’s sample marketplace revenue, saying, “they’re very favorable deals.” That’s especially great for the music production industry, because a lot of Splice’s sample creators aren’t celebrity DJs; Martocci says they’re audio engineers and other “people behind the scenes getting an opportunity to step into the light with an amazing revenue opportunity, but also an opportunity to be seen for their creative contributions.”
Splice began with a eureka moment at a concert. A friend asked Martocci why there weren’t great tools for producing music like there are for building software like GroupMe. After eventually leaving his chat app that Skype acquired, Martocci connected with Splice co-founder Matt Aimonetti and discovered he’d been an audio engineer for half of his life. They saw a chance to build a GitHub for music, with version control and admin permissions for making saving and collaborating on productions simple. By 2015 Splice had launched its Sounds subscription library, and the next year began selling rent-to-own software synthesizers to make avoiding piracy affordable for creators.
Fast-forward and Martocci tells me prioritization across Splice’s different product lines will be one of its big challenges. Luckily, he has a new crew of lieutenants to help. Former product lead for Apple Music and Beats by Dre VP Ryan Walsh has joined as chief product officer because, Martocci says, “he felt like his mission in music was unfinished.” Former chief financial officer of Marvel Entertainment Chris Acquaviva is now Splice’s CFO, who offers deep licensing expertise. And bringing the creator community vibe, MakerBot’s former CHRO, Kavita Vora, has become Splice’s chief people officer.
In an era when tech public image has been tested by non-stop scandals from the industry giants, Splice is pulling in ace talent that want to work on something unequivocally positive. Martocci tells me parents tell him that their kids spend all their time playing Fortnite and making music on Splice, but the latter is screen time they’re happy to encourage.