Celebrity Mike Shinoda backs a startup that lets you do video calls as NFT avatars
NFT avatars, which represent the identities and status of their owners, are now commonplace on social media platforms. These blockchain-verified jpegs do not reflect changes in the subject’s physical self and have other limitations. By giving NFT avatars life, Hologram hopes to change that.
Together with his co-founder Hongzi Mao, a computer science Ph.D. from MIT, Pow, a former employee of decentralized exchange protocol developer 0x Labs, has developed a desktop application that turns stationary avatars into motion-tracked ones using machine learning methods. Hologram, a Chrome addon, replaces Pow’s actual video feed with a cat avatar from the NFT collection known as Cool Cats.
“Think of it as a machine learning model compressed and deployed to the browser. The technology has only been achievable in the last few years, with the speed and efficiency to run in real time,” explains Pow, adding that the AI model is trained using only publicly available data.
The face tracking data from the camera is sent into the avatar once the model has been deployed to the browser, which causes the avatar to perform the movements in real time.
“To create motion-tracked characters, it requires either high-cost hardware for in-depth tracking or certain platforms that do not have the best user experience, so our angle is really creating the tooling and application for users to become virtual characters with one click,” the founder says.
Vtubers, often known as virtual YouTubers who broadcast or upload videos utilizing live anime characters, are no strangers to this motion-captured avatar technology.
Hologram is attempting to make their solution more sophisticated by including a hand tracking capability. Additionally, a smartphone application is being created. The business intends to use its technology to produce both short- and long-form videos in addition to animating avatars during video conversations.
Although the startup is focusing on NFTs, the company’s AI model allegedly has the ability to emote any static avatars.
Naturally, it has drawn a variety of investors with experience in the cryptocurrency space who are either providing financial or go-to-market help. With participation from Nascent, Inflection, The Operating Group, Quantstamp, Neon DAO, Foothill Ventures, and South Park Commons, Polychain Capital led the seed round.
If you only recall one investor’s name, it will probably be Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, who will collaborate with Hologram on his NFT musical endeavor, Ziggurats. Other investors include Naveen Jain, the creator of Yat Labs, Richard Ma, the creator of Quantstamp, and Kalos, the creator of Parallel NFT.
By assisting more than ten NFT collections—including Cool Cats, Deadfellaz, and Crypto Covens—to turn their characters into dynamic avatars, Hologram has already generated income. In the end, the business hopes to speak with customers directly. Users might be able to adorn their NFT avatars in branded virtual clothing, taking real-world assets one step closer to becoming digital ones.
The two Hologram founders are among a growing number of Chinese entrepreneurs working abroad on web3 ventures. In principle, they might have an advantage in contacting investors in both the West and China thanks to their hybrid understanding of both cultures. In fact, Pow claims that in the future he plans to raise money from Chinese investors.
For the time being, Hologram is focusing on the Western NFT business, but Pow sees a chance in China. China pushes tech companies to build permissioned NFT marketplaces and utilize them to promote IP protection despite restrictions on cryptocurrency trading.
“Crypto is optional for us, and that’s really our advantage,” says Pow. He explains that from a technical and product perspective, the firm’s technology isn’t reliant on global blockchain networks like Ethereum or Solana.
For many digital natives, Hologram will help them find somewhere they belong.