Robot maker acquires conversational AI startup

A social robot with the gift of gab may soon become the most conversant machine on the planet.

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Makers of a robot named Moxie, whose 2020 launch was largely drowned out in the early days of the pandemic, are betting conversation will be the key to unlocking market viability. The recent acquisition of a conversational AI company will give Embodied a leg up in pursuit of that goal.

The recent acquisition by Embodied of Kami Computing crystalizes the former companies ambition to be a dominant player in human-machine interface technology.

"The next big wave in technology will be driven by human-machine interfaces," said Paolo Pirjanian, founder and CEO of Embodied. "Kami's technology helps us continue developing category-defining technology to create social emotional robots that have the power to fight the loneliness epidemic and change people's lives."

An educational robot designed for children may seem an odd entry point for a company dedicated to advancing conversational AI. But Embodied is betting children are the perfect early adopters for conversational AI technology, which isn't quite ready for prime time but which is coming close—close enough to pass muster with a five-year-old.

As an Embodied spokesperson recently pointed out, Amazon Alexa's challenge is to create 20 minutes of general conversation. Embodied claims it can now maintain on average 25 minutes of engagement with its users repeatedly. It does this via Moxie, a bulbous blue robot that sits on a tabletop and has an emotionally expressive face and movements. The robot is designed to behave like a believable, life-like character the company calls Animates. The robot is meant to provide emotional support, social support, companionship, and coaching.

The acquisition of Kami will allow embodied to continue accelerating its work pioneering human-robot interaction. The early stage startup has developed innovative technologies around conversational AI, machine learning, and natural language generation (NLG). It was founded by Tel Aviv based Guy de Beer and London based Dr. David Levy, who together with a team of 12 scientists developed a generative voice-based conversational agent. It's product is an artificial persona capable of human level open domain conversations, with a natural tone of voice, long-term memory, advanced cognition, and emotions. 

Embodied plans to integrate the technology into its SocialX platform, which is meant to enable children to engage with Moxie through natural interaction (i.e., facial expressions, conversation, body language, etc.), evoking trust, empathy and motivation as well as deeper engagement to promote developmental skills.

"We're thrilled to join Paolo and the Embodied team as they embark on the exciting journey to change the future of robotics through lifelike, believable human-machine interaction. Our conversational technology will have an outstanding impact on interaction with Moxie as well as the development of future projects," said Guy de Beer, Founder and CEO of Kami Computing.

But if children are the target audience for now, it's a safe bet Embodied has its eyes on a broader market as human-machine interaction becomes a reality in the market.