After acquiring Ukraine startup Looksery in 2015 to supercharge animated selfie lenses in Snapchat — arguably changing the filters game for all social video and photo apps — Snap has made another acquisition with roots in the country, co-founded by one of Looksery's founders, to give a big boost to its video capabilities.
The company has acquired AI Factory, a computer vision startup that Snap had worked with to create Snapchat's new Cameos animated selfie-based video feature, for a price believed to be in the region of $166 million.
The news was first reported by a Ukrainian publication, AIN,
and while I'm still waiting for a direct reply from Snap about the acquisition, I've had the news confirmed by another source close to the deal, and Snap has now also confirmed the news to TechCrunch with no further comment on the financial terms or any other details.
Victor Shaburov, the founder of Looksery who then went on to become Snap's director of engineering -- leaving in May 2018 to found and lead AI Factory -- declined to provide a comment for this story. (The other founders of AI Factory are Greg Tkachenko and Alexander Mashrabov.)
Cameos, launched last month, lets you take a selfie, which is then automatically "animated" and inserted into a short video. The selection of videos, currently around 150, is created by Snap, with the whole concept not unlike the one underpinning "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 of that word has strong dystopian undertones, we now appear to be in a moment where consumer apps are tapping into the technology in a race for new -- fun, lighthearted -- features to attract and keep users. Just today, Josh reported that TikTok has secretly built a deepfake tool, too. I expect we'll be hearing about Facebook's newest deepfake tool in 3, 2, 1...
From what I understand, while AI Factory has offices in San Francisco, the majority of the team of around 70 is based out of Ukraine. Part of the team will relocate with the deal, and part will stay there.
Snap had also been an investor in AI Factory. Part of its early interest would have been because of the track record of the talent associated with the startup: lenses have been a huge success for Snap -- 70% of its daily active users play with them, and they not only bring in new users, but increase retention and bring in revenues by way of sponsorships or users buying them -- so creating new features to give users more ways to play around with their selfies is a good bet.
It's not clear whether AI Factory will be developing a way to insert selfies into any video, or if the feature will be tied just to specific videos offered by Snap itself, or whether the videos will extend beyond the timing of a GIF. It's also not clear what else AI Factory was working on: the company's site is offline and there is very little information about the company beyond its mission to bring more AI-based imaging tools into mainstream apps and usage.
The company's LinkedIn profile says that AI Factory "provide[s] multiple AI business solutions based on image and video recognition, analysis and processing," so while the company will come under Snap's wing, there may be scope for the team to build some of its technology into more innovative ways for businesses to use the Snap platform in the future, too.
We'll update this post as we learn more.
Updated with Snap's confirmation of the acquisition, and details of the co-founders.