ObEN raises $5M from Tencent to create AI celebrities for AR

The worlds of VR and AR may deeply change how we interact with computers but it may also change how we follow celebrities as well.

ObEN, which uses artificial intelligence-powered tools to create avatars that look and sound like the real deal, announced today that it has raised $5 million in strategic investment from Tencent as it looks to tackle the AI celebrity scene. Li Ruigang, Chairman of CMC and Fengshion Capital, also participated in the round. The startup has raised nearly $13 million to date.

The company, which recently graduated from HTC’s Vive X virtual reality accelerator, has shifted its focus a bit as it’s moved from helping VR gamers make more accurate avatars to building virtual copies of celebrities that can “interact” with fans. With this move, ObEN seems to be moving to capitalize on the popularity of things like mask filters and Snap’s Bitmoji figures to bring celebrity avatars into augmented reality experiences.

The AI-powered tech takes a photo and audio snippet and creates a “virtual celebrity” that not only looks similar but talks in a familiar tone. Users may one day be able to ask their favorite pop stars for advice and receive some AI wisdom in return. It’s all a bit odd and feeds off the celebrity worship that probably isn’t a great hallmark of our society, but it makes for some user-generated content that is much more interactive than a simple chatbot.

With platforms like Apple’s ARKit soon to launch, the startup will soon have millions of phones on which it’s ready to serve up its little assistants. The Tencent partnership makes a lot of sense for ObEN which is watching the development of AR and VR usage in Asian markets very closely. In April, the startup showcased a demo of WeChat services integrated into VR.

While some VR companies have devoted heavy resources to creating volumetric scans of public figures, ObEN is looking to achieve similar results while only focusing on nailing the faces, something that could make creating celebrity-focused content incredibly easy.