Humane Raises Another $100 Million, Announces Partnerships With Microsoft and OpenAI, But Their Products Remain a Mystery

Aaron Tilley, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ link):

The husband and wife co-founders were longtime Apple executives who departed in 2016. Mr. Chaudhri was the former director of design for Apple’s human interface team, which focuses on the user experiences of Apple’s devices. Ms. Bongiorno was a director for Apple’s operating system.

Patrick Gates, a former senior director of engineering at Apple, is also an early employee at Humane, where he serves as chief technology officer. The $100 million round was led by Kindred Ventures and included participation from Microsoft, among others. OpenAI Chief Executive Sam Altman, who was an early investor in Humane, also joined in the new round. The company previously raised two rounds of financing totaling $130 million.

As part of a fundraising announcement Wednesday, the company said it would be working with Microsoft to power Humane’s cloud services. Humane would also be partnering with OpenAI to integrate its AI technology into the Humane device.

Here’s Humane’s press release. Most interesting to me isn’t the additional funding — though it is worth noting they’re up to $230 million total and this is their third round and the still haven’t shipped anything — but the partnership with Microsoft. Apple, I am reliably informed, wants nothing to do with Humane. Bongiorno and Chaudhri did not leave on good terms, with Chaudhri in particular being perceived as taking excessive personal credit for work done by a larger team. I don’t know if that’s true or not, only that that’s how he’s seen, by some, in Cupertino.

I mean, it’s hard to imagine Apple investing in any startup making consumer computing devices. Apple acquires smaller companiesfrom time to time”, but they seemingly don’t nurture them through investments. And when Apple does acquire smaller companies, they tend to do so quietly (Beats being the exception that proves the rule). Humane doesn’t seem like a company looking for a humble quiet acquisition.

I remain keenly interested in whatever it is Humane is building. The mere fact that they’re both founded by ex-Apple executives and staffed by numerous ex-Apple employees makes them rather unique. It’s been gnawing at me lately that there have hardly been any companies at all founded by former Apple employees in the modern post-NeXT-reuinification era. There’s Tony Fadell’s Nest — but who else? I expected something new, eventually, from Scott Forstall, for example, but it’s now a full decade after his ouster, and he’s remained out of the game.

Humane is the exception. And so we wait.

Bonus Content: A 2021 investor pitch slide deck from Humane leaked a while back. I have an extremely low-res samizdat copy of a few of the slides. Might as well stop hoarding it. Who knows if the gadget described in the deck bears any resemblance to what they might eventually ship, but the deck describes something akin to a Star Trek communicator badge, with an AI-connected always-on camera saving photos and videos to the cloud, and lidar sensors for world-mapping and detecting hand gestures. (The “What is it?” slide says it’s a “Cloud connected sight enabled AI platform with server side app echo system.” That’s not really helpful to me because I don’t know what an “app echo system” is. Perhaps it was a typo and they meant ecosystem?) Humane’s patent filings describe a laser projection system for displaying a visual UI on, say, the palm of your hand, but I never put much stock into patents turning into actual products. What companies make, they patent; but what they patent usually isn’t made.

Wednesday, 8 March 2023