Social robots, which are designed to interact with consumers, are a common sight at CES, but technological and commercial success has been more elusive as startups look to refine applications. Today, Furhat Robotics announced that it has acquired the assets of Misty Robotics Inc., saying the acquisition will enable it “to expand the category of social robotics and develop the next generation of human interfaces.”
“With joint expertise and resources, we now have the vision and potential to create the most capable and exciting social robots to have ever existed,” stated Samer Al Moubayed, co-founder and CEO of Furhat Robotics. “We know that in the next few years, the robotics market will be worth billions, and service robots reflecting the best of human behavior will be at the center of it.”
Founded in 2014 and based on research at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Furhat claimed to be a pioneer in social robotics and conversational artificial intelligence. The Sweden-based company said its vision “is to build a human-like computer interface that enables people to interact with machines the same way humans interact with each other.”
Furhat offers intelligent interaction
Furhat Robotics said researchers and businesses use its robot, which has a screen projecting a human-like face, in a variety of applications. For example, the Furhat robot can perform duties including medical screening, autism therapy, and museum guidance.
In addition, Furhat can act as a travel concierge, receptionist, or teaching assistant, according to the company. The robot can also provide employee training by role-playing a variety of realistic scenarios, it said. Furhat's conversational AI supports a total of 40 languages.
Recently, Furhat Robotics worked with one of Sweden’s largest recruitment companies to create 'Tengai,’ a system to conduct job interviews that it said is free of the unconscious biases about race and gender that managers and recruiters often bring to the hiring process.
Furhat is backed by venture capital partners Balderton, LocalGlobe, and Qualgro, and it has received support from the European Innovation Council. In 2021, the company said it welcomed more than 1,000 users from 45 different countries into its community for easy engagement with technology.
Sphero spinoff Misty serves developers
Ian Bernstein, founded Misty Robotics in 2017. He was previously co-founder of consumer robotics company Sphero Inc., which was known for the Star Wars BB-8 toy. Bernstein worked with Misty CEO Tim Enwall to find wider applications for personal robots, said Furhat.
Misty Robotics offers application programming interfaces so that researchers and developers can customize its mobile robots. They could add functions such as a temperature-screening assistant for COVID-19 workplace screening, health companions, and tools for supporting children with autism.
The Boulder, Colo.-based startup said it is building “the first professional-grade platform robot, Misty II,” with the vision of enabling developers “to build for and accelerate the opportunity for robots to do useful things in business, home, research, and educational use.”
Acquisition to help social robots scale
Furhat Robotics said its acquisition of Misty Robotics for an undisclosed sum will enable it to establish a U.S. base of operations. The company's systems are already used by brands including Disney, Intel, Accenture, and Facebook, as well as academic institutions such as Northeastern University.
“As a robotics company, we have always admired the work of the Misty Robotics team, so to be joining forces with them is an exciting moment,” said Al Moubayed. “Ian Bernstein and Tim Enwall from Misty Robotics will join Furhat’s advisory board, and other senior team members from Colorado will join our management team.”
Al Moubayed previously worked as a Pittsburgh-based research scientist for Disney Imagineering, and he researched social robotics and conversational AI at KTH. He said he will spend time at Furhat’s Stockholm headquarters and Misty's offices in Colorado.
Furhat Robotics said it will continue to support the Misty Robotics brand. It plans to help develop and expand the product range, as well as partially integrate Furhat and Misty features. The company also said it will add its visual perception and conversation AI platform to empower future Misty robots and allow for further customization of voice and personality for the social robots.
“Furhat Robotics is a true pioneer in its field,” said Bernstein, head of product at Misty Robotics. “
We are joining forces to bring the future of robotic applications into the present, and the combination of our specialities means that we will see even more incredible real-life applications of this amazing technology in the near future. Social robots are already playing a significant role in our lives, and by applying our combined expertise to solve real-world issues, the sky truly is the limit.”