Speech Graphics secures £2m for ‘game-changing’ US growth

Michael Berger (left) and Gregor Hofer (right), co-founders of Edinburgh-based Speech Graphics are reaching a new level with expansion into the US and customer service markets. Picture: Contributed
Michael Berger (left) and Gregor Hofer (right), co-founders of Edinburgh-based Speech Graphics are reaching a new level with expansion into the US and customer service markets. Picture: Contributed
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An Edinburgh-headquartered firm specialising in facial animation is setting its sights on “game-changing” developments in the customer service market following a multi-million pound investment.

Tech company Speech Graphics is targeting the customer service sector’s intelligent visual assistant market, estimated to be worth more than £8 billion in the next six years, on the back of a £2 million funding injection.

The firm, a spin-out from the University of Edinburgh founded in 2010, provides real-time audio-based facial animation and lip sync technology, which has featured in video games such as the newly launched Lara Croft adventure, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and music videos by artists including rapper Kanye West.

Working from its California base in the San Francisco Bay area, Speech Graphics will use the funding boost to build a software platform which will support the creation of emotionally responsive avatars capabale of engaging in real-time conversations with customers. It claims its technology introduces an “emotional connection currently lacking in existing artificial intelligence (AI) platforms used in customer service”.

The investment was raised from business angel syndicate Archangels, venture capital firm Par Equity and Scottish Enterprise’s investment arm, Scottish Investment Bank (SIB).

According to data from Grand View Research, the intelligent virtual assistants market is expected to grow from $750m (£538m) to some £8.8bn by 2024.

Gregor Hofer, co-founder and chief executive 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.”

Co-founder and chief technology officer Michael Berger said the company’s experience in achieving animated faces with a “real” feel in video games will transfer well to the customer services sector. He added: “We succeed in creating the illusion that the animated face you see on the screen is the source of the sound you hear.

“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 Speech Graphics “could be a game changer” for the customer service experience.

He said: “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.”