Humane, a secret AI startup founded by ex-Apple employees, raises another $100 million

A startup founded by ex-Apple design and engineering team Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno, Humane, today raised another $100 million to build what it calls an “integrated platform for devices and cloud services” for AI.

Humane’s work is shrouded in mystery. But the latest round of funding, a Series C, attracted a laundry list of notable investors, including Kindred Ventures (who led the round), SK Networks, LG Technology Ventures, Microsoft, Volvo Cars Tech Fund, Tiger Global, Qualcomm Ventures and OpenAI CEO and fellow founder Sam Altman.

To date, Humane has raised $230 million from existing and previous investors, including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. The workforce has increased accordingly and now numbers exactly 200 employees.

“This Series C round provided an opportunity to raise money through equity and to bring on board great VCs and strategic partners eager to participate in equity as the company grows,” Chaudhri told TechCrunch in an e-mail. mail interview. “At Humane, we are building a unique device and service platform – we are growing rapidly and we are focused on innovation, research and development.”

Those lofty promises are typical of Humane, which caused quite a stir after recruiting dozens of decorated ex-Apple employees who were responsible for the iPhone’s touchscreen keyboard, elements of Apple’s industrial design, and infrastructure for Apple services such as iCloud, Apple Pay and Home. Chaudhri himself spearheaded the design of the iPhone’s home screen, while Bongiorno helped lead software development for iPhone, iPad, and later the Mac.

Neither Chaudhri nor Bongiorno are willing to talk about what Humane has built over the past five years – until now. The husband-wife duo promises a reveal this spring. But Humane’s patent portfolio and hiring reveal some clues.

In 2020, Humane filed with the USPTO (spotted by 9to5Google) for a “body-worn device” that uses a “laser projection system” instead of a display — essentially projected AR glasses that can identify objects in the real world and apply digital images to them. And just three years ago, Humane hired Android developers to create apps for “personal live broadcasting,” as well as “senior monitoring,” “reminder reminders,” and “personal guide.”

Pull back the curtains on his trial, Humane did today reveals several strategic ties to its investors.

Humane co-founders Bethany Bongiorno and Imran Chaudhri. Image Credits: humane

Humane says it is working with SK Networks and Microsoft to market its platform and services, with Microsoft providing the cloud processing power and SK Networks handling distribution. Meanwhile, Humane is teaming up with OpenAI to integrate its technology into the startup’s device — whatever form it eventually takes, exactly. For its part, LG is collaborating with Humane on R&D projects for the next phase of its product lifecycle and adapting Humane’s technology for smart home devices. And Volvo is working with Humane on a potential offering for the automotive industry.

Qualcomm is also a partner, says Chaudhri, which would make sense if the aforementioned patent were anything to go by. In addition to the laser projection system, the patent diagrams show a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip combined with a camera, 3D camera, depth sensor, heart rate sensor and a portable battery.

If that all sounds kind of vague, it is, from the reserved language (e.g. “potential offer in the automotive industry”) to the lack of concrete practical details. Is the partnership with OpenAI just a customer-supplier relationship or something deeper given Altman’s personal involvement? How could Humane’s technology fit into both the smart home and the automotive space?

Aside from claiming that Humane is focused on “trust and privacy from day zero,” the company says nothing. Chaudhri repeatedly emphasized Humane’s investment in AI.

“AI can have a transformative impact on most aspects of our daily lives, but that requires a large amount of data,” she said. “We’re basically building devices and platforms for a new era, which means a continuous process of development and redevelopment.”

Call me cynical, but I’m wary of startups with huge war chests of capital but no significant commercialized product.

One that comes to mind is Magic Leap, which generated massive hype years before it unveiled its first prototype, but eventually fizzled and nearly died. Like Humane, Magic Leap had impressive investors, including AT&T, Google, and Alibaba Group, and partnerships with content creators like Disney’s Lucasfilm. But the company’s technology disappointed, leading lenders to downgrade Magic Leap’s valuation and shift the company’s leadership from the consumer market to the corporate market.

Magic Leap isn’t the only high-profile hardware failure of recent years. Android founder Andy Rubin’s Essential shut down after promising an entire ecosystem of products but only delivering one Android smartphone. Nothing, started by ex-OnePlus CEO Carl Pei, was anything but more successful, but had its own set of challenges.

I’m not suggesting that Humane will go the way of Magic Leap, Essential or Nothing. For example, it manages expectations better. But even with the best tech talent under one roof, history has taught us that there are no guarantees.

I leave you with this quote from Steve Jang, the founder and managing partner at Kindred:

“When I first met the Humane team and led their seed round in 2019, we were blown away by the vision of AI and contextual computing. Founders, Bethany and Imran, and much of the team led by Patrick Gates, CTO, came from Apple and were integral to designing and building the iPhone, iPad, Watch, and iOS platform . In their time and work there, they have experienced the power and limitations of the smartphone era. In our very first conversation, we were excited about their vision to provide a more human and personalized computing experience. The Humane team continues to make great strides toward a future of AI that is human-centric and empowering.”

A tempting prospect? Certainly. But I won’t believe it until I see it.

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