Google Assistant Investment fund offers cash for AI startups

Google is launching a Google Assistant Investment program, offering financial and technical support to companies wanting to build on its AI platform and in its cloud. Unveiled along with four initial recipients, the new program is part of Google's attempt to encourage more Assistant-powered hardware and Actions, and preferably lure people away from Alexa in the process.

According to Google, there'll be several parts to the investment program. Open to early-stage startups, the biggest lure is undoubtedly going to be the investment capital. However, the search giant is also promising access to its engineers, product managers, and design teams, for both technical guidance and product development feedback.

Those selected to take part will also get early access to upcoming features and tools on the Google Assistant roadmap. That could help give them an edge over more established players. Similarly, Google is committing to promoting its program members through its own marketing channels. Considering identifying which Assistant abilities remains one of the trickier issues around voice-controlled AIs, this better discovery process could well be particularly valuable when it comes to standing out from a crowd.

Finally, there'll be access to the Google Cloud Platform. Google says it's not limiting participation in the program to either hardware or software, nor by segment. Those selected to take part could be working on a new hardware device to further embody the Assistant, or they might be working on an action for the AI that addresses a particular category like travel or games.

Four companies have been named as the first batch of investments. GoMoment has developed Ivy, a 24/7 virtual concierge for hotel guests that is already deployed in a number of locations. Edwin, meanwhile, is an AI English tutor.

It needn't all be consumer-facing, however. BotSociety, for example, has developed a system for design and testing voice interfaces, which is already being used by thousands of developers. Pulse Labs, meanwhile, is a system for beta testing voice applications with real participants.

Google's program comes fairly late to the game, mind. Amazon's Alexa Fund opened its wallet a couple of years ago, offering its own package of financial and technical support for companies wanting to develop Alexa hardware and services. Since then, we've seen numerous devices and Alexa skills surface as a result of the scheme.

Google is throwing open the books on Google Assistant Investments today, and would-be participants can register for consideration.