Archangels invests in speech technology business to fund breakout into global customer service market
Edinburgh-based business syndicate Archangels, Par Equity and Scottish Investment Bank (SIB) have injected £2 million of growth funds into Speech Graphics, a technology business which provides real-time audio based facial animation, featuring in productions from video games to music videos.
The team behind Lara Croft’s smile in the newly launched bestselling Shadow of the Tomb Raider video game say they will use the new funds to turn their technology sights on the customer service sector as the Edinburgh and California based company targets the Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVAs) market from its base in the San Francisco Bay area.
The firm expects the IVA market is expected to grow from $750m (£538m) to nearly $12.3bn (£8.8bn) by 2024. Speech Graphics technology introduces an emotional connection currently lacking in existing artificial intelligence (AI) platforms used in customer service. It plans to use the proceeds of the funding to build a software platform around its core technology which will allow the development community to create emotionally responsive avatars which can engage in real-time conversations with customers.
Speech Graphics is well known in the entertainment industry as the leading provider of facial animation and lip sync technology based purely on audio input and currently works with global brands including Warner Brothers, Microsoft, Def Jam, Sony and Activision. Speech Graphics was part of the technology stack for the new Lara Craft Tomb Raider Game for Square Enix which has quickly become a best-selling game since its launch a few weeks ago.
Dr Gregor Hofer, co-founder and CEO of Speech Graphics said: “This is an exciting time for Speech Graphics as we realise our strategic vision of expanding into the US, taking our revolutionary technology into the customer service realm with the funding from Archangels, Par Equity and SIB. Today the consumer expects round the clock customer service. Intelligent Virtual Assistants may seem like the answer but we also expect service with a smile. A smile you can believe in.”
Michael Berger, co-founder and CTO of Speech Graphics, said: “We are experts in what we do and we succeed in creating the illusion that the animated face you see on the screen is the source of the sound you hear. This is very difficult to achieve and viewers are highly sensitive to any mismatch between the face and the voice so it needs to feel real! Speech is not just about lip sync, it’s also about energy and emotion in the voice that need to come across perfectly in the face. We were proud to add the Lara Croft Tomb Raider game to our distinguished track record in the entertainment sector, which demands the highest quality output. That proven tech now allows us to bring the same emotional connection to customer service applications where it is sorely needed.”
David Ovens, chief operating officer at Archangels, said: “It is great to be part of the growth ambitions of Speech Graphics, which could be a game changer for the customer service experience, across all market segments. At Archangels we want to invest in high growth technology businesses. The core technology created by Speech Graphics is already market-leading in the gaming industry and we look forward to supporting the business to achieve its global ambitions”
Pierre-Marc Simard, animation technical director at Eidos, said: “Speech Graphic’s SGX enabled the team at Eidos-Montréal to generate over twenty thousand high quality lip-sync animations for Shadow of The Tomb Raider with its wide range of conversations. The generated content integrated directly into our existing animation pipeline, which made it a nice addition to our tools and the team provided fast and expert support to our needs throughout our production.”