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Humane's AI gadget plans include becoming an MVNO

Sam Altman is Humane's biggest shareholder

Secretive AI hardware startup Humane is getting ready to officially unveil its AI Pin next month, and I’ve got an interesting tidbit that tells us more about the way the device connects to the internet, and what that means for Humane’s business.

Leading up to the November 9 announcement, Humane has been slowly lifting the curtain, giving us a first look at the hardware at a Paris Fashion Week event, and also hinting at some of the device’s features. Among the revelations: Last week, Humane CEO Bethany Bongiorno mentioned on Twitter that the AI pin will be “a stand-alone (sic) device” as well as “a phone, contextual computer, and software platform.”

Those remarks led some to conclude that the AI Pin will have cellular connectivity, and not rely on a mobile phone to connect to the internet. A spokesperson for Humane confirmed as much when I contacted the company for this story, writing:

“The Ai Pin is a standalone device which does not need to be partnered with a smartphone or other partner device. In Imran’s TED Talk, he also received a phone call live on the TED stage. They will be sharing full details, including around connectivity, on November 9.”

I recently discovered something that shines a bit more light on the connectivity piece:

  • Humane filed an application with the FCC “for authority to provide resale services” with the FCC earlier this year, which regulators subsequently granted.

  • As part of the application, Humane told the FCC that it isn’t looking to operate its own mobile network infrastructure, and that it isn’t owned or controlled by a foreign telco.

  • This essentially means that Humane is looking to act as an MVNO, reselling telecommunication services provided by other mobile carriers.

The plan to sell these services is noteworthy, as it has major implications on the company’s business model.

  • If Humane was just looking to add some connectivity to its device, it could have opted to support SIM cards or eSIMs from other carriers, much like tablet makers do.

  • Instead, Humane aims to establish a billing relationship with its customers, which means that it actually wants to make money with services, as opposed to just hardware sales.

  • I’d expect the company to introduce the AI pin with a monthly service plan that includes both connectivity as well as cloud storage and processing for captured photos and video.

  • Then again, the plan to launch its own mobile services could be further down the road, and not tied to the initial AI Pin launch. We’ll learn the whole story on November 9.

Sam Altman is Humane’s largest investor. Another revelation from that FCC filing: OpenAI CEO Sam Altman is Humane’s largest shareholder.

  • Altman owns “14.93% equity and voting through a number of holding companies none of which individually holds 10% or greater ownership interest in Humane,” the filing states.

  • Co-founders Bethany Bongiorno and Imran Chaudhri both own 13% each.

  • “No other individual or entity holds a 10 percent or greater direct or indirect voting or equity interest in Humane,” according to the original filing.

  • Humane announced three years ago that Altman had led its Series A round of funding, but his exact stake in the company hasn’t been previously reported.

  • The startup has raised at least $230 million in funding to date.

  • Altman’s major role might raise some eyebrows, as he reportedly also teamed up with former Apple design star Jony Ive to create an AI phone — which sounds like it might squarely compete with Humane’s AI-powered post-phone vision.

This article was first published as part of Lowpass, a weekly newsletter about AR, VR, streaming and more. Sign up now for free.

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