Y Combinator-backed Poly uses AI to generate art assets TechCrunch
As generative AI like ChatGPT and DALL-E 2 capture the attention of investors, start-up entrepreneurs are looking to cash in on the new business models built around them. One of the more exciting companies to emerge from the space recently is Poly, which allows designers to create video games and other virtual assets, including textures for 3D models, using only text prompts.
Poly is essentially a stock asset library modeled after Adobe Stock and Shutterstock, but populated exclusively by AI builds. While platforms like Getty Images have banned AI-generated content for fear of potential legal backlash, Poly is going full steam ahead.
“Almost everyone knows the all-too-common pain of searching online for the perfect icon, artwork, font, or sound effect, only to give up and settle for something imperfect. Poly tries to drastically improve this with a suite of creator-focused generative tools,” CEO Abhay Agarwal told TechCrunch in an email interview.
Prior to co-founding Poly with Sam Young, Agarwal was a research fellow at Microsoft, where he published in the area of AI for social impact. Agarwal then launched Polytopal, a “human-centric AI” consulting firm that has worked with brands like Spotify, Meta and Nestlé to develop various intelligent systems. Among other projects, Polytopal co-created a dance choreography algorithm for the game BeatSaber and launched a virtual baking assistant for Toll House that helps design a cookie recipe tailored to users’ dietary needs.
“Young and I started Poly in early 2022 from a shared passion to ‘expand the creative capacity of the world’ and joined Y Combinator’s S22 batch,” Agarwal said.
Poly’s first tool in its planned web suite generates 3D textures with physical render maps. In modeling, “physics-based rendering” refers to a technique that aims to render images in a way that mimics the flow of light in the real world.
With Poly, designers can describe a texture (eg “tree bark with moss”) and optionally provide a reference image to get generated textures for creating 3D models. Models are available in customizable resolutions and with normal and reverse maps – maps often used in game development to add volume, depth, and detail to the surfaces of 3D objects.
“Poly trains its generative AI models with several proprietary methods, such as extracting texture information from normal images to increase its model’s learning capabilities,” Agarwal said.
Asked how Poly handles more sensitive content that developers might request, such as violent and overtly sexual generated imagery, Agarwal offered few details, but said Poly audits its products “carefully and responsibly.” “No cases of harm have yet been reported to us,” he added.
Poly sees itself competing with both traditional asset marketplaces and developers’ manual design processes. In addition to portals such as GameDev Market and OpenGameArt, major game engine providers like Unity host and sell assets through their own platforms.
Poly isn’t the first to apply AI to generate game assets, either. Direct competitors include Hotpot and Pixela.ai, which use similar algorithms to create custom backgrounds, sprites, and more. artistic content.
Agarwal says Poly’s generative AI is superior to most in terms of the quality of the assets it produces. The jury is out on this. But Poly aims to further differentiate itself by expanding its generative AI service across asset types like artwork, sprites, sound effects and more. It plans to make money through corporate partnerships, premium integrations for design tools, and charging subscription fees for royalty-free access to assets, including commercial and resell rights.
Agarwal says “thousands” of developers currently use Poly’s free service, which generates unlimited assets for non-commercial use, while “hundreds” pay for Poly’s pro plan. To date, the platform has generated over two million textures.
This momentum attracted investors including Felicis, Bloomberg Beta, NextView Ventures, Y Combinator, Figma Ventures and AI Grant, who together contributed $3.9 million in venture capital to Poly during the Y Combinator demo day. in September.
“Poly’s clients range from professionals at Fortune 500 companies to independent freelancers in game design, AR/VR, interior design, architecture and 3D rendering for e-commerce and marketing,” Agarwal said. “Poly has a multi-year track and can focus on building the best technology possible because a higher quality product is needed to stand out and win in this emerging and very active space.”
Assuming Poly spreads widely, he and his generative AI rivals run the risk of upsetting the artist community – not just because they could threaten livelihoods, but because systems have been shown to generative AIs regurgitate the data they were trained on (e.g. existing art assets). On art community portal ArtStation, which earlier this year began allowing AI-generated art on its platform for the first time, members began protesting widely by placing “No AI” images. Art” in their portfolios.
Legal issues raised around the technology also remain unresolved. A class-action lawsuit alleges that GitHub’s code-generating system, Copilot, regurgitates sections of licensed code without providing credit, which could have implications for art-generating AI systems as well as those that use the art created by them. In an unrelated case, the US Copyright Office recently terminated copyright protection for a comic book created with generative AI after initially granting it, saying only works created by humans are entitled. to protection.
Agarwal isn’t concerned, however – or if he is, he doesn’t show it.
“Generative AI has come under a lot of criticism from creators and is considered ‘anti-creator’ as many companies in this industry want to replace creators with automated systems. However, Poly’s goal has always been to give creators easier access to design resources,” Agarwal said. “Building on its current momentum, Poly plans to continue its relentless focus on its proprietary generative AI innovation, model training, and product development to support more types of design assets. and be integrated into designers’ daily workflows.”
Poly currently has three employees and plans to double its team over the next six to twelve months.