On his way to wearable glory, musician and occasional investor Will.i.am picks up an important piece of the machine learning puzzle
It would seem that without much fanfare, Israeli startup Sensiya has been bought up by the musician Will.i.iam’s consumer tech label i.am+ for an unknown sum. With no press release, the company made their announcement with a simple post today on their website.
The first notice of the purchase showed up in a write up on Wired during a review of i.am+’s latest development called AneedA. It is described in the article as a “device agnostic AI virtual assistant with a conversational interface to the internet, apps, streaming music, and other services.”
Sensiya’s CEO Noam Fine tells Geektime that his company had begun working with i.am+ around a year and a half ago before making to move to merge in an acquisition.
According to Wired, AneedA’s OS, which sits on top of an Android OS, works with Sensiya’s machine learning, speech recognition capabilities from Nuance and Wolfram Alpha’s knowledge engine. The software is expected to be added to a variety of wearables, including the company’s new product Dial, a hybrid phone / bracelet.
Founded in May 2014 by Fine and Yossi Marouani, the company currently has a 25 member team at the offices in Bnei Brak. They have accumulated a list of investors including Yossi Vardi, Shlomo Nehama, Avi Shechter, and Stav Shacham.
Sensiya’s contribution is their proprietary SDK that provides for contextual awareness capabilities. As described on their website, “The Sense SDK helps developers understand real life events, to create applications that respond to these events in real time.”
Their technology uses the sensors on a phone to better understand their users, collecting important data points that help to create a user profile. This includes how fast a user types, what they like, if they are male or female, and a whole host of other tidbits. Perhaps more interesting is their use of the the gyroscope and accelerometer to determine if a user is in motion, sitting, or doing other activities.
It is these machine learning capabilities that i.am+ wants to grow on. Fine has a strong background in understanding user behavior and understanding how to utilize data for effect, serving as CEO at PredictAd, Widdit, and Base. Now he is taking his knowledge to help i.am+ develop the next generation of mobile technology experiences that corresponds to the needs of the users.
Following the merger, Fine tells Geektime that they will become the Hollywood-based i.am+’s home base in Israel, working on growing their machine learning, Natural Language Processing and Natural Language Understanding capabilities.
Fine says that they plan on opening a new round of hiring to help build up their team.
While perhaps better known for his work with the Black Eyed Peas and eccentric if original sense of style, Will.i.am is no stranger to investing. In the past, he has put money into the Israeli startup Music Match and a variety of other tech ventures, often with other celebrity investors. In the case of Beats, which sold to Apple for over $3 billion, he has built some credibility for knowing a sound investment when he sees it.
On the other hand, his wearables like the Puls, which got ripped up in the reviews, was a bit more of a flop.
Whether or not i.am+’s Dial takes off or faces difficulties like the Puls is yet to be seen. Wearables have not taken off like many people, including Apple and Fitbit, may have hoped.
For the time being, they are generally pretty uncomfortable and the technology just hasn’t been up to par. In order for people to start talking into their watches and going back to small screens, the usability and practicality of these devices will have to pick up their game.
Will.i.am and the Sensiya team seem to be in this for the long game and are ready to put the work in on developing something that just might be appealing.