Snap Inc. co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel appears on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange during the company’s IPO on Thursday, March 2, 2017.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
LONDON – Snap, the parent company of the social media app Snapchat, has acquired a UK artificial intelligence start-up called Ariel AI that focuses on augmented reality.
Ariel AI was founded in London in 2018 by a group of former Google and Facebook scientists, including Chief Executive Iasonas Kokkinos and Chief Technology Officer George Papandreou. The news was first reported by Business Insider and confirmed by Snap to CNBC on Tuesday.
Prior to acquiring Snap, Ariel AI had raised $ 1.1 million from investors, according to Crunchbase. Snap declined to comment on the price of the new deal, but it’s likely in the single-digit million range.
Artificial intelligence can be defined as intelligence demonstrated by machines, while augmented reality is a technology in which digital content and information is superimposed on the physical world.
Ariel AI has focused on an area of AI known as computer vision that is used to create augmented reality features.
The start-up’s website states that its software enables “3D perception by humans” in real time and that it can operate “the next generation of customer experiences on mobile devices”.
A YouTube demo video shows how the company’s technology can render a 3D model of a person in real time. The model can then be used to try on virtual clothing and immersive gaming.
Snap told CNBC that the Ariel AI team had joined the Computer Vision team in London in late 2020.
The startup’s 12 engineers were tasked with making the Snapchat camera “smarter” and enhancing the augmented reality experiences that enable Snapchat users to engage with the real world.
Snap said her work will focus on understanding geometry, semantics, and more of what is in the camera’s field of view.
Nathan Benaich, an AI investor at Air Street Capital and co-author of the annual State of AI report, told CNBC that he wasn’t surprised that Snap bought Ariel AI.
“That was actually my bet,” he said, adding that Facebook, Samsung and Pokemon Go maker Niantic were other competitors for him.
Benaich said he thinks Snap bought Ariel because it “focuses on building 3D meshes on the device in a snappy and battery-efficient way with a use case in AR.”
He also said Snap likely bought the company for the talent it has in its workforce, too.
Social media companies like TikTok and Facebook are struggling to create the most sophisticated AR experiences for their users. These range from dog ears that people can layer on their heads to other special effects.
US tech firms have acquired several British AI startups in recent years. The most famous example is that Google bought DeepMind for $ 600 million in 2014. Elsewhere, Twitter bought Magic Pony Technology for $ 150 million, while Facebook bought Bloomsbury AI for up to $ 30 million.
Snap also bought a start-up called Voisey last November, which has developed an app that allows people to overlay their own voice onto short pieces of music.