Daimler Financial Services, the financial and mobility services arm of German car maker Daimler, has taken an unspecified "strategic investment" in New Zealand company Soul Machines, which has produced a digital-created human face able to speak text with intonation and facial expressions.
Soul Machines' chief business officer, Greg Cross, said the investment would put the company in a better position to quickly develop and test its technology in the automotive sector, in partnership with Daimler Financial Services.
The global CIO of Daimler Financial Services, Udo Neumann, announced the investment at the Gartner Symposium on Australia's Gold Coast, saying: “After successfully testing how artificial intelligence helps our employees better service customers, we are now investing in a disruptive technology to further enhance the customer experience.”
Daimler became a Soul Machines' customer in February this year. It is using Soul Machines' avatar, dubbed Sarah, to provide personalised assistance to customers for a range of services including car financing, leasing and insurance.
It says Sarah has been successful in answering the most frequently asked customer questions during an internal pilot at one of its US call centres and now plans to use Soul Machines' technology to optimise the customer experience through artificial and emotional intelligence.
"Thanks to emotional intelligence, the machine will be able to recognise the most diverse individual customer needs and offer the right information at the right time," the company said.
"This brings Daimler Financial Services at the forefront of a changing environment, as the share of online business is increasing significantly and customers are making their purchasing decisions on digital platforms."
Neumann said emotional intelligence would play a crucial role in adapting services, such as car financing, leasing and insurance, car sharing or ride-hailing to customers. “Sarah will be programmed to recognise non-verbal behaviour in real-time using face recognition.”
Soul Machines, launched in late 2016, was the University of Auckland's biggest commercial spin-off at the time. It secured backing of US$7.5 million in its initial financing round from Hong Kong-based venture capital firm Horizons Venture, an early investor in Siri, acquired by Apple, and in Deep Mind, acquired by Google.