Artificial Intelligence deal biggest yet for University of Auckland/UniServices

23 November 2016

Intelligent computers that look, think and react like humans are the latest technology being developed at the University of Auckland to become a commercial venture.

Artificial Intelligence company Soul Machines was officially launched this week after it attracted US $7.5 million in its initial financing round from Hong Kong-based venture capital firm Horizons Ventures, making it the University’s biggest Series A fund raising deal to date.

The company is developing a completely new user interface between humans and their machines, based on technology created by Dr Mark Sagar and his team at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) at the University of Auckland.

Dr Sagar won two academy awards for his work on the Avatar blockbuster. He becomes the CEO of Soul Machines. He also heads the Bioengineering Institute’s Lab for Animate Technologies.

“Our engineering team will focus on bringing human life to technology that is intelligent, emotive and adaptive. Our goal is to define the user experience for Artificial Intelligence systems and platforms,” Dr Sagar says.

Auckland UniServices CEO Andy Shenk says Soul Machines demonstrates the phenomenal power that comes from the unique combination of art, science and creative insights that Mark Sagar and his team have produced.  

“In the same way, we at UniServices believe that Soul Machines also demonstrates the unique power that comes from the combination of world-class research at the University of Auckland and the commercialisation expertise that we have built over almost 30 years," Dr Shenk says.

Soul Machines will develop technology in the rapidly accelerating artificial intelligence sector. Its lifelike, emotionally responsive avatars will have the potential to become the interfaces between humans and machines across a variety of platforms.

The new company is backed by Horizons Ventures, which were early investors in Siri, acquired by Apple, and Deep Mind, acquired by Google. Phil Chen from Horizons Ventures will join the Soul Machines board.

Experienced New Zealand-based technology entrepreneur Greg Cross has also joined Soul Machines to launch the new company and accelerate commercialisation. 


Media contact

Danelle Clayton
Communications, Vice-Chancellor's Office
The University of Auckland

About Soul Machines
Soul Machines is a developer of intelligent, emotionally responsive human like avatars as a user interface for Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms.  The University of Auckland spin-out company was founded based on the BabyX technology created by Dr Mark Sagar and his engineering research team at the University’s Laboratory for Animate Technologies at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute.  The company is venture-backed, with an investment led by Hong Kong based Horizons Ventures, a leading artificial intelligence and virtual reality investor.

About UniServices
Auckland UniServices Limited is the commercial research, knowledge transfer and custom education company of the University of Auckland - dedicated to connecting the University’s capabilities to business and investors, Government and the community.

University of Auckland a leader in innovation
Many University of Auckland academics are also inventors and entrepreneurs. According to The Reuters Top 75 list of Asia’s most innovative universities in 2016, we rank as the most innovative university in Australasia. We have also been recognised by the MIT Skoltech Initiative as one of the five emerging world-leading universities in entrepreneurship.