K11 art mall invests US$10m in AI startup

K11 art mall has invested US$10 million into AI startup Oben with a view to introducing immersive experiences to retail.

Oben creates virtual identities, while K11 was founded by entrepreneur Adrian Cheng, whose family owns the Hong Kong conglomerate New World Development as well as jewellery group Chow Tai Fook.

K11’s funding will be used to drive the growth of Oben’s technology, which can simulate a person’s voice, face and personality, and perform tasks on their behalf. Founded in 2014, the California-based startup has raised more than $23.7 million to date.

Its technology enables users to quickly create an intelligent personal 3D avatar that is authenticated and registered on the blockchain.

“With this strategic investment from K11, we will be able to reach millions of new customers and create experiences that will shape the future of retail,” says Oben co-founder/chief executive Nikhil Jain.

Through Oben’s Personal Artificial Intelligence (PAI) concierge, consumers can receive real-time information and personalised shopping advice. The technology will be introduced early this year at the Shanghai K11. Visitors will be able to use tablets provided by the retailer, walk up to an art or design display and engage with an avatar in the form of a celebrity, curator or even Cheng himself.

“In the future, this can be applied to in-mall LCD screens as well as users’ smartphones to provide shopping tips and retail guides,” says a spokesperson.

The announcement follows several retail investments by Cheng, heir of the billionaire Yu-Tung Cheng, reports BoF.

In October, he formed C Ventures, a fund that targets millennial and gen-Z focused brands in China and the US, including media channel Dazed, social-media platform Galore, fitness-and-beauty hubs Bandier and Beautycon, and Not Just a Label, a community and e-commerce site promoting emerging fashion designers. In December, C Ventures and K11 led luxury e-commerce site Moda Operandi’s $165 million investment round.

Eventually, Oben’s AI-powered tools could be used by these businesses.

In June, Oben teamed with K-pop management company SM Entertainment to launch the JV AI Stars, which lets celebrities create special experiences for consumers and retail outlets.


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