A new intelligent assistant makes its debut today to compete with the likes of Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant. Lighthouse distinguishes itself from its competitors by using computer vision to detect and monitor activity within a home.
Until now, Lighthouse has operated in stealth since 2015. Today, the company also announced the close of a $17 million funding round, led by Eclipse Ventures with participation from Playground Ventures. Lighthouse and its 30 employees are based at Playground Ventures. Android co-creator Andy Rubin created the Playground Global incubator and office space for startups. Its $300 million investment fund closed in 2015.
Lighthouse can’t play you music or tell you jokes like Alexa or Cortana can. But the device’s makers explain that if other assistants are for giving you control of things when you’re home, Lighthouse is designed to deliver insights when you’re away from home.
A simple voice or text search can tell you when your kids get home, whether they’ve been running in the house, and if the cat or the kid broke a vase while you were at work. Should your teen bring their significant other over without supervision, Lighthouse can see it, alert you, and patch you in to speak with the young couple.
The device was made by cofounder Alex Teichman and CTO Hendrik Dahlkamp, two early adopters of 3D sensors and self-driving cars who met at Stanford University.
Dahlkamp was an engineer at Google X and a member of the team that won the DARPA Grand Challenge for autonomous vehicles.
“We’re pretty well-versed on the technology that makes lighthouse possible, in particular 3D sensing and deep learning,” Teichman said.
The 3D sensor inside the device makes it possible for Lighthouse to identify people, pets, kids, and other living things or objects by employing the same tech used in autonomous cars.
Natural language processing and other AI was built in-house and responds to both text and voice. Search with the Lighthouse app with voice or text and you can save alerts for whatever in your house you know Lighthouse can see, whether it’s an unidentified intruder or the dog on the couch. People in videos are distinguished by differently colored halos.
Each Lighthouse device comes with annual installments of $399 for the first year plan, $499 for the second year, and $599 for three years of Lighthouse computer vision coverage. Those unhappy after a year can choose to ask for a refund for the difference.
Customer data is not gathered by Lighthouse unless explicit permission is given to do so. And there’s not going to be an ecommerce upsell to add Pinterest or Amazon image search so Lighthouse can get a cut and turn a profit, Teichman told VentureBeat.
“We are not going to try to sell you a better scarf. That’s not why we exist,” he said. “We are very interested in providing a delightful AI service in return for money and a transaction.”
Lighthouse is coming on the scene at an especially busy moment for intelligent assistants. Microsoft has announced a series of upgrades to its cognitive service, the Microsoft Bot Framework, and the newly released Cortana Skills Kit. Skype video bots were also introduced. On Monday, Harman Kardon announced that its smart speaker Invoke is due out in the fall with Cortana inside. On Tuesday, Amazon released its Echo Show and the ability to make phone calls and send messages with Alexa-enabled smart speakers and devices.
Additional Cortana announcements are forecast to take place today at Build 2017, Microsoft’s annual developer conference. Announcements could also be on the way when Google holds its I/O conference next week.
The $17 million funding led by Eclipse Ventures included participation from Playground Global, SignalFire, and Start. Other investors include Sebastian Thrun, director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Stanford University. Lighthouse has 30 employees.