Editor’s note: This story is the final part of our four-part series on artificial intelligence startups and their impact on multiple sectors. In Part One, we analyzed VC investment in AI over the last decade. Part Two looked at the billions of dollars rolling into AI-enhanced cybersecurity. Part Three explored AI’s promise to transform medical imaging technology. — Special Projects Editor Christine Kilpatrick
For years now, startup investors have been busily writing checks to founders applying artificial intelligence in creative new ways to their respective industries.
That momentum continued in 2022, with investors signing on to back some rather quirky applications of AI technology.
How quirky? Using Crunchbase data, we assembled a list of some of the more unusual-seeming models. If they pan out, expect a future where AI-enabled tech can customize your wig, cut your meat, sort your trash and track lice on your fish farm. (If you have a fish farm, that is.)
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Without further ado, here are six recently funded or launched AI endeavors applying technology in surprising ways:
Customize your wig: New York startup Parfait has seen the AI future, and it’s all about making wigs. The company raised $5 million in April, with tennis star Serena Williams listed as a backer. Parfait uses artificial intelligence to capture a client’s exact measurements and skin tone when crafting its wigs. The company’s goal is to speed up the process and significantly cut costs for producing high-quality custom wigs, which usually cost upward of $2,000 and take months to make.
Upgrade your skincare: Estonian startup Haut.AI is applying artificial intelligence technology to the pressing task of figuring out which skincare products work best. The company, which counts Microsoft for Startups and Nvidia Inception Program among its partners, operates an AI engine trained on millions of face and skin images to match users to appropriate products based on over 14 skin health and beauty metrics.
Give you a good night’s sleep: Bryte makes high-tech mattresses optimized for restorative rest by tracking sleep duration, stages and efficiency. In July, the Silicon Valley company pulled in $20 million in a round led by mattressmaker Tempur Sealy.
Be your friend: Replika, an app that makes digital avatars that interact with people in the role of friend and confidant, has drawn over 10 million users in its few short years of existence. As users chat with the avatar, the AI learns more about them and improves its ability to provide personalized responses. VC-funded mental health app Woebot, which is also AI-powered, functions more as a mental health tool — it “listens,” asks questions and makes recommendations. Both startups join several other AI tools that purport to offer the kind of emotional support and interpersonal interaction one usually expects from a human.
Keep your fish healthy: If you’re a fish farmer, AI technology can help deliver healthier fish at lower cost. That’s the pitch from Aquabyte, a 5-year-old Norwegian startup that raised $25 million in a July Series B round and counts SoftBank Ventures Asia as a backer. Aquabyte uses AI to scale adoption of tools that enable automatic lice counting, welfare scoring and biomass control, among other data-driven offerings. Meanwhile, another aquaculture-focused AI startup, Norway’s Aquaticode, also scored funding this year, pulling in $6 million in an August Series A.
Warn about a flood: In recent quarters, we’ve been seeing a good bit of venture investment directed at weather-related startups. Now, one AI-focused startup is promising better tools to predict one of the most worrisome of weather developments: flooding. Cloud to Street, calls its offering an AI- and satellite-powered technology that can track floods in near real time anywhere on Earth. To further this effort, the New York-based company pulled in $12 million in Series A funding in September.
The dataset for the funding analysis includes companies categorized by Crunchbase as one of several sectors tied to fintech and financial services. Companies included in the results may be fully financial services-focused or include financial services as a significant focus of their business models. Funding rounds included in the results totaled at least $200,000 and included companies founded no more than 20 years prior to the funding.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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