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Signage for the Google Assistant is displayed during CES 2018. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Google has quietly acquired Superpod, a startup that had built a question-and-answer mobile app, Axios has learned. Google paid less than $60 million to “acqui-hire” the founders and purchase some of Superpod's assets, according to a source.

The bigger picture: The search giant hasn’t been shy about its ambitions for Google Assistant, the voice-activated virtual assistant that it debuted in 2016. Superpod, which lets users ask questions and receive answers from experts, could help Google bolster its virtual assistant’s ability to answer users’ questions.

  • Superpod isn’t the first to tackle this concept — Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s startup Jelly had a similar concept, though the company ultimately sold to Pinterest in 2017 and folded.
  • Jelly’s premise was that there was still a need for human answers to people’s questions, something that became evident through social media, where users frequently “crowdsource” answers from others.

A Google spokesperson confirmed that Superpod’s founders have joined the company but declined to comment further about the deal. Superpod shut down its app in September.

Background: Superpod.io (formerly known as Sparks) was founded by ex-Google employees Sophia Yang and William Li in 2016, according to Pitchbook, and raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Precursor Ventures, Charlie Cheever, Social Capital, and the House Fund, per AngelList.

Go deeper

Mike Pence calls Kamala Harris to offer congratulations and help

Mike Pence. Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty

Vice President Mike Pence called Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Thursday to congratulate her and offer assistance in the transition, the New York Times first reported.

Why it matters: The belated conversation came six days before the inauguration after a contentious post-election stretch. President Trump has neither spoken with President-elect Joe Biden, nor explicitly conceded the 2020 election.

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

The coronavirus variants: What you need to know

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New variants of the coronavirus circulating globally appear to increase transmission and are being closely monitored by scientists.

Driving the news: The highly contagious variant B.1.1.7 originally detected in the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March if no measures are taken to control the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

1 hour ago - World

Abbas announces first Palestinian elections in 15 years

Abbas is 85 and in the 15th year of a 4-year term. Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas published a decree on Friday announcing the dates for parliamentary and presidential elections in the Palestinian Authority.

Why it matters: This is the first time in 15 years that such a decree has been published. The last presidential elections took place in 2005, with Abbas winning, and the last parliamentary elections took place in 2006, with Hamas winning.