Israeli-based digital avatar startup Hour One announced recently that it has secured $5 million in seed funding that will allow it to create thousands more digital characters and scale its artificial intelligence-driven, cloud-based platform.
The funding — which came from a number of venture capital firms including Galaxy Interactive, Block.one, and Kindred Ventures — will help Hour One in its mission to supply people with synthetic versions of themselves that are visually indistinguishable from the real thing.
These photorealistic AI avatars can be used by marketers, reciting words from a script for example, or to speak on behalf of public figures using their own words for a digital broadcast.
“We create synthetic characters based on real people,” said Hour One business strategy lead, Natalie Monbiot in an interview with VentureBeat. “We do so for commercials… we take real people and we have this really simple process for converting real people into synthetic characters that resemble them exactly.”
Another application where Hour One’s tech could be used is in the metaverse — the collective virtual space combining the VR-enhanced physical sphere with augmented reality and the internet — as near-perfect visual representations of users.
“There is definitely interest in the metaverse and we are doing experiments in the gaming space and with photorealism,” said Monbiot. “The thing that has fired up the team is this vision of a world which is increasingly virtual and a belief that we will live increasingly virtually.”
Monbiot also explains that people in today’s society are already projecting various versions of themselves via their social media accounts, going through the trouble of creating digital representations of who they are. Hour One’s digital avatars, she argues, can be used to do the work for us.
“[Y]ou know, that old saying we can’t be in two places at once?” she said. “Well, we believe that that will no longer be true.”
Hour One also thinks its tech could possibly create the opportunity for people to make money off of their avatars, feeding them marketing dialogue from companies and putting them to work as spokespeople while not having to actually appear in front of a camera themselves.
“These customers can create thousands of videos simply by submitting text to these characters,” Monbiot said. “It appears as though real people are actually saying those words, but we’re using AI to make it happen.”
Hour One currently has roughly 100 digital avatars today, and has indicated that with this latest round of funding it can lower the production cost per character, allowing for production to expand through the end of this year.