Is buzzy startup Humane’s big idea a wearable camera?

Humane, a secretive startup led by two former Apple executives and made up of several former Apple employees, has secured an additional $100 million investment in a new funding round, the the company announced. The Series C round includes investments from Microsoft, OpenAI founder Sam Altman, Volvo and LG, and brings Humane’s total funding to $230 million (per Crunchbase). The company appears to be working on a wearable camera, judging by an apparent leaked pitch deck from 2021.

But despite the investment it’s generated and its plans to reveal an “initial product offering” as soon as this spring, it’s still unclear exactly what Humane actually plans to do as a company. His press release says he hopes to create “a one-of-a-kind consumer software platform and device built from the ground up for artificial intelligence (AI).”

“A one-of-a-kind software platform and consumer device built from the ground up for artificial intelligence”

Humane was founded in 2018 by former Apple employees Bethany Bongiorno and Imran Chaudhri, who The Wall Street Journal describe as “husband and wife co-founders”. Bongiorno is CEO of Humane and previously worked on the software engineering side of Apple, while Chaudhri is chairman and president of Humane, and was previously design director on Apple’s human interface team. Humane’s chief technology officer is Patrick Gates, who previously served as senior director of engineering at Apple.

“Our first device will allow people to take AI with them everywhere. These are exciting times, and we’ve been focused on how to build the platform and device that can fully harness the true power and the potential of this technology,” Chaudhri said in a statement.

More details can be found in a leaked investor pitch deck from 2021, which was published by John Gruber at Bold Fireball. The slides, which The edge was unable to independently verify the authenticity of, to describe a wearable device with a camera that “captures moments you never thought you’d capture” or “moments you want to remember” .

Device specs of a leaked alleged investor pitch deck, but at a hard-to-distinguish low resolution.
Picture via Bold Fireball.

“You can mark them by hitting Save and those moments will be selected for processing on the server so you can recall them in different styles, as images or videos.” The pitch deck describes how the company hopes its AI software will be able to edit clips of different styles (“cinema, documentary, lifestyle”) together and respond to gestures and questions like “What car is it?” or “What is this building?” (Though it’s unclear if he can answer those questions at the time or when reviewing the images later.)

The slides list other features planned for the camera, including “personal live streaming” on platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, “senior monitoring” to check on a loved one remotely, and “reminder of memory”.

Although there is no guarantee that Humane is still developing the exact same product today as it is in 2021, there is some overlap here with a 2022 report of 9to5Google based on company patent filings and job postings. The report describes a portable device with a laser projection system rather than a traditional screen, and which is capable of projecting an interactive display onto any surface. There is also talk of using cameras, sensors and microphones to recognize air gestures and voice requests. Like the pitch deck, the patent also mentions using the device for live streaming, senior monitoring, or to recall memories.

This whole concept is familiar. The idea of life logging has been a part of the tech scene for decades, stepping in and out of fashion with new hardware. In the early 2010s, there were devices like Autograph And Mementoand towards the end of the decade cameras like the my me And Google Clips (although the latter was about using AI to selectively document certain events rather than 24/7 recording). Newer devices offered similar functionality to Humane’s supposed product: using AI to sort and highlight the best footage. But the trend never really took off, either because of privacy concerns, the inconvenience of carrying a camera, or because the end results just weren’t that good.

As part of the funding announcement, Humane says it is partnering with Microsoft to leverage its cloud infrastructure and will integrate OpenAI’s technology into its device. There is also mention of a collaboration with LG and Volvo to explore how Humane’s technology could be used in home technology and automotive products in the future.

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