A Belfast tech company specialising in lip-reading technology has won $1m in funding to bring a new platform for visual speech recognition to the market.
Liopa Ltd’s funding boost — led by its initial backers, Techstart NI, and QUBIS — will enable it to commercialise the LipRead platform and actively market it for global use.
LipRead uses the camera on a smartphone or tablet to analyse lip movement and decipher words and phrases.
Liopa’s latest investors include the AI Seed Fund, which was set up to support start-ups which use artificial intelligence to create technology.
The funding round was also supported by Co-Fund NI, which is managed by Clarendon Fund Managers.
LipRead’s main function will be improving the accuracy of commonly used voice-driven assistants, such as Siri and Alexa, in noisy environments such as cars, offices and factories.
It’s been developed following a decade of research by Queen’s University Belfast’s Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT). It also won a cash prize in InterTradeIreland’s Seedcorn competition two years ago.
Liopa is led by entrepreneurs Liam McQuillan, the co-founder of AePONA, and Richard McConnell.
Dr Darryl Stewart and Dr Fabian Campbell-West, experts in visual speech recognition and computer vision, are also part of the Liopa team and have led the research behind LipRead.
Liam McQuillan explained: “Voice is forecast to overtake the keyboard and mouse as the primary means of interacting with mobile and computing applications. The big stumbling block however is the accuracy of current voice technologies in real world environments — commands get misinterpreted frequently due to background noise.
“LipRead will augment current technologies and provide this much-needed accuracy, thus ensuring the success of the ‘Voice UI’.”
Other potential uses of the multi-lingual lip-reading technology include an aid for the hard of hearing via automated subtitling, and preventing authentication fraud.
Hal Wilson of Techstart NI added: “Liopa brings together great technology, a strong team and an exciting market opportunity.
“This latest funding round marks a significant step forward.”
John Spindler, general partner at AI Seed, said: “Liopa is a great example of a team with a pedigree of research tackling challenges in visual speech recognition using the latest advances in machine learning.”
Mr McConnell and Mr McQuillan have been involved in a number of tech start-ups.