Business

Saturday 27 May 2017

New Dublin voice recognition startup raises €7.6m in funding round

Peter Cahill
Peter Cahill
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

The founder of a Dublin-based voice technology startup that today announced a €7.6m funding round says that we are “months” away from Star Trek style voice commands in our homes and businesses.

Peter Cahill’s company, Voysis, has built a voice recognition system that specialises in natural language processing and text to speech capabilities.

The startup is rated so highly that venture capital firms have been snapping at its heels trying to get a piece of it. But it opted for a €7.6m round from long-time collaborator Polaris Partners through its European venture partner Noel Ruane.

“The day when you can do [what Captain Picard] did is not far away at all,” Cahill told Independent.ie. “We’re talking months or maybe a year for the technology to be capable and then maybe a bit longer for it to be built out into products.”

In the 1990s television series ‘Star Trek: Next Generation’, Captain Jean Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) commanded his ship by barking orders out loud to the ship’s computer.

“I think, in general, that artificial intelligence is developing at a faster pace than before,” said Cahill. “It’s not iterative, it’s coming in leaps.”

Voysis’s technology allows third party companies to control how the software and generated data is used. This means they can use it for their own websites and applications.

Voice recognition technology is widely seen as one of the biggest growth areas in the tech world, partially thanks to billions in investment from Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

“In May last year, 20pc of all Google and Android searches were voice based,” said Cahill. “And I’ve seen credible projections that 50pc of all search will be voice based by 2019. Usage figures are skyrocketing. Younger demographics use it more heavily, but then everyone else catches on. I saw one figure which said that 51pc of teenagers in the US use voice technology.”

Other startups backed by Polaris Partners include Boxever, Profitero and Logentries, which sold to Rapid7 for €64m in 2015. Mr Ruane has become executive chairman of Voysis.

Cahill said that Voysis will use the round of financing to expand its US team, opening a new office in Boston and to develop its technology for a wider range of partners and customer use cases.

“Voice is finally breaking through as the next interface and companies across all industries are eager to leverage these capabilities so users can speak naturally with their favourite brands from their phones, cars, or home appliances,” said Cahill. “Apple, Amazon and Google have built general purpose voice assistants that do an excellent job of understanding simple commands, but can sometimes lack real utility and purpose for third party applications. We deliberately designed and developed Voysis to fill this gap, a platform to quickly and easily build and deploy intelligent voice applications that are specific to individual brands.”

It’s been a busy time for Irish startups dabbling in voice technology.

Last month, another Dublin voice technology company, Soapbox Labs, raised €1.2m. Founded by Dr Patricia Scanlon, Soapbox Labs uses deep neural net speech recognition technology to analyse children's speech in noisy 'real world' environments such as kitchens and cafés.

“There’s a massive opportunity for voice to transform relationships between businesses and their customers just as Twilio did for the messaging industry and Stripe for payments,” said Dave Barrett, managing partner at Polaris Partners of the Voysis announcement.

“For real industry change, the market needs intelligent voice assistants that are fast, accurate, and tailored to specific use cases. With Peter’s deep domain technical expertise and Noel’s proven track record of launching early stage companies, Voysis is well-positioned to become a key industry player.”

The new comes as Ireland undergoes a venture capital boom. Recent figures from the Irish Venture Capital Association show that €888m in funding was recorded here last year, mostly for technology firms.

The statistics also claim that ‘seed’ funding for early-stage startups has reached its highest level here, exceeding €70m.

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