With $10 Million Series B Round, Viewdle Turns Its Face Recognition Technology on Consumers

10/5/10Follow @wroush

Viewdle is one of those technology startups that probably should have stayed in stealth mode a lot longer. The San Jose, CA-based company created a stir around the time of its public launch back in September 2007 with demos that promised real-time facial recognition for digital video—a still-unsolved problem that, if definitively licked, could help to make Web video just as easy to search as text. Building on computer-vision algorithms first developed for the Soviet military by Ukrainian computer scientist Mikhail Schlesinger, the company said it would help large media organizations index and better monetize their video archives—claims that propelled the company to first place in the LeWeb startup competition in Paris in 2008.

But then Viewdle did a slow dissolve, so to speak. Three years after its public debut, the startup still hasn’t brought any products to market, and its website, which once featured examples of its facial recognition software detecting the faces of celebrities like George Clooney and Britney Spears, now shows just a logo and a “Stay Tuned!” notice. So it wouldn’t have been unreasonable for an outsider to conclude that Viewdle was no longer really on the air.

Except that it is. In July, John Albright, co-managing partner of RIM’s BlackBerry Partners Fund, told Beet.TV that the fund had put some Series B money into the startup. And today the company revealed more details about the funding round, which totals $10 million and also includes Best Buy, Qualcomm, and existing investor Anthem Venture Partners, which put an undisclosed amount of Series A funding into the company in 2007. The startup will be launching “exciting new consumer applications” within the next few months, CEO Laurent Gil said in the announcement.

Mikhail Schlesinger

Mikhail Schlesinger

The company isn’t talking about exactly what those applications might be, but chief product officer Jason Mitura told me that the strength of Viewdle’s latest facial recognition technology is that it can run on many platforms, including smartphones. “One of the differentiators of our technology is that it works everywhere from the palm of your hand to the cloud, for pictures and videos,” Mitura says. He says the company’s philosophy is that the billions of digital photos and videos that consumers capture every year would be much more useful if they could be automatically tagged—at the moment they’re captured, shared, or uploaded—with the names of the people who appear in them.

Reasoning backward from these clues, and from the identities of the Series B investors, it seems safe to say that Viewdle’s emphasis has shifted from the media and publishing world to the consumer market, and that it’s developing facial recognition software that could be embedded in consumer gadgets such as smartphones, digital cameras, and videocams.

“For consumers, it’s all about real time,” said Kuk Yi, vice president of Best Buy’s venture capital wing, in today’s press announcement. “Viewdle is leading the market by creating compelling consumer experiences that are both real-time and cross-platform—that is why we invested in the company.” Yi has joined the Viewdle’s board as a result of the investment, as has Albright.

Viewdle has an exclusive commercial license to facial recognition technology that chief scientist Schlesinger, a computer vision expert at the Institute for Computing and Information Technologies in Kiev, Ukraine, originally developed for … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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