After the acquisition of the Ukrainian start-up Looksery in 2015 to charge animated selfie lenses in Snapchat – probably changing the filter game for all social video and photo apps – Snap has made another acquisition with roots in the country, co-founded by one of the founders of Looksery, to significantly improve the video capabilities.
The company has AI Factory, a computer vision startup that Snap had worked with to develop Snapchat's new cameo-animated selfie-based video feature for a price that is believed to be in the order of $ 166 million.
The news was first reported by a Ukrainian publication, AIN.
and while I'm waiting for Snap's direct response to the acquisitionI have had the message confirmed by another source near the store and Snap has now confirmed the message to TechCrunch with no further comments on the financial terms or other details.
Victor Shaburov, founder of Looksery, who later became Snaps technical director and founded and directed AI Factory in May 2018, declined to comment on this story. (The other founders of AI Factory are Greg Tkachenko and Alexander Mashrabov.)
With cameos that started last month, you can take a selfie, which is then automatically “animated” and inserted into a short video. The selection of videos, currently around 150, is made by Snap. The whole concept is similar to the one that underpins "deepfakes" – AI-based videos that look "real" but are actually things that never really happened.
Deepfake videos have been around for a while. But if your experience with that word is highly dystopian, we now seem to be at a moment when consumer apps are using technology to develop new, fun, and carefree features that can be used to attract and hold users. Only today Josh reported that TikTok also secretly built a deepfake tool. I'm assuming that in 3, 2, 1 … we'll hear about Facebook's latest deepfake tool.
As far as I know, AI Factory has offices in San Francisco, but the majority of the team of around 70 employees is located outside of Ukraine. Part of the team will move with the deal and part will stay there.
Snap was also an investor in AI Factory. Part of his early interest would be due to the startup's track record: lenses have been a huge success for Snap – 70% of his daily active users play with them and not only bring in new users, but increase engagement and achieve Revenue from sponsorship or purchase from users. So it's a good bet to develop new features that help users better manage their selfies.
It is not clear whether AI Factory is developing a method of inserting selfies into a video, or whether the feature is only tied to certain videos that Snap itself offers, or whether the videos go beyond the timing of a GIF. It's also not clear what AI Factory has been working on: the company's website is offline and there is very little information about the company beyond the mission, more AI-based imaging tools in the mainstream apps and their Integrate usage.
The company's LinkedIn profile states that AI Factory[s] several AI business solutions based on image and video recognition, analysis and processing. “While the company falls under Snap's wing, the team may be able to incorporate some of its technology into more innovative ways for businesses to use the Snap platform in the future.
We will update this post as we learn more.
Updated with snaps confirmation of the takeover and details of the co-founders.