The Expect Labs team has been awfully busy these past few months — the San Francisco startup has already locked up investment deals with major players in the mobile and hardware realms, and now the company has announced that IDG and Liberty Global have become its latest strategic investors.
Quick recap of Expect Labs’ mission: it’s working on what it calls the Anticipatory Computing Engine, a system that quietly listens in on your conversations to figure out what you’re talking about and surfaces what it thinks you may need before you even ask for it. If Expect Labs CEO Tim Tuttle has his way, the ACE will find itself embedded in a slew of devices and services all around you, waiting to dish out data at a moment’s notice.
As usual, Tuttle wouldn’t disclose the details of Liberty Global and IDG’s investment, but it’s said to be larger than the startup’s $2.4 million seed round. So far the company has received strategic investments from the likes of Samsung, Intel, and Telefonica, and it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine how a mobile phone titan, a chipmaker, and a wireless carrier could potentially implement a system like this.
IDG is a little more peculiar though in that it’s largely a media and events business — how exactly could they benefit from a system like that. Though IDG hasn’t yet asked Expect Labs to build anything for them, Tuttle expects that the company’s potential uses of the anticipatory computing system will relate to distance learning and online seminars. That education angle is definitely a compelling one, if only because the ACE aims to provide contextually-sensitive information as a discussion unfolds, and Tuttle says it wouldn’t be a huge stretch for the system to serve up data related to lecture materials in real time.
Liberty Global on the other hand isn’t a very well-known quantity around these parts, but the cable company sports a substantial subscriber base in Europe and South America and Tuttle says its interest in anticipatory computing ties into a larger vision of a connected home. We’ve seen more than few cable companies branch out into that space already — Comcast and Time Warner Cable dabble in home automation to name a few — but as the number of connected devices in our homes continues to grow, Tuttle says adding natural language interface is a logical next step in making them smarter.
“Picture those sci-fi movies from the 50s where people talk to their appliances,” Tuttle added. “That’s the same picture that these companies are looking at.”
But Expect Labs has its share of issues to tackle, and perhaps the largest it faces at this point is getting the ACE ready for the world at large. The ACE is no polyglot right now — the alpha version that the startup’s partners have been playing with for the past few months can only parse English, but Expect Labs has received strategic investments from multiple foreign companies that have either expressed interest in using the ACE or have already begun testing it. If the team wants to fulfill its (admittedly lofty) vision, the ACE needs to handle a multitude of languages and get a grip on the sorts of information people in those markets will be asking for.
“If you ask it about politicians or restaurants in Japan it’s not so great,” Tuttle said. “But if you ask it about the All-Star game or restaurants in San Francisco, it does considerably better.”
And of course, there’s the eventual consumer launch to fret over. Last time I spoke to Tuttle, he seemed a little crestfallen because the widespread release of the impressive MindMeld iPad the team showed off at our Disrupt SF Battlefield had to be put on the back-burner due to increased interest from its would-be partners. Now that the young company’s coffers are swelling, it’s working to flesh out its team to better support its existing partners and a forthcoming influx of regular consumers taking the iPad app for a spin — Tuttle says they should be ready to go by the end of the year.