ObEN nabs $7.7M Series A as it looks to build a more human VR avatar

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When you’re in virtual reality and start associating your limb and head movements with your onscreen avatar, that digital recreation really becomes an extension of who you are.

ObEN is a startup launching out of HTC’s new Vive X accelerator that is hoping to craft a more complete digital version of its users so that they can be drawn deeper into VR immersive experiences. The startup uses AI to recreate a user’s face photo-realistically in 3D based on nothing more than a selfie, while also capturing the tone and intonation of a user’s voice based on just a little voice recording.

Today, the company is announcing $7.7 million in Series A funding led by CrestValue Capital and other Chinese investing partners. ObEN is looking to use the funds to build its team and scale its product a bit.

A big problem with avatars in VR and video games more broadly relates to a problem called the “uncanny valley,” a term that refers to when a digital human avatar ends up appearing really unsettling because it’s realistic, but just not quite familiar enough.

It’s why I cringe every time I watch Polar Express and why some of the human androids being built in Japan scare the bejesus out of me. This is an issue that ObEN definitely may have in its future, though they think the phenomena may be a bit overplayed.

Oculus addressed this issue at its developers conference this past month where it released its own avatar system that promoted less realistic shiny-faced figures that could be customized quite a bit, but not with the intention of photorealism.

ObEN’s avatar system will be something that game creators will be able to easily integrate into titles, ObEN actually sees much of their attention coming from verticals like healthcare and education where vibes are a bit more serious and being able to identify individuals is also a must.

ObEN plans to launch its first product in Q1 of 2017.