Business

$1m funding boost for innovative Belfast start-up

Richard McConnell and Liam McQuillan from Liopa are pictured with Hal Wilson, partner, Techstart NI.
Gareth McKeown

A BELFAST-based start-up has secured $1 million (£700,000) funding to help bring its innovative lip-reading technology to market.

Liopa Ltd is poised to bring the world's first Visual Speech Recognition (VSR) platform to the commercial market thanks to the funding from investors, including the AI Seed Fund and Co-Fund NI.

Developed following 10 years of research by the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) at Queen's University, 'LipRead' uses the camera on a smartphone or tablet to analyse lip movement and decipher words and phrases.

LipRead's primary function will be improving the accuracy of commonly used voice-driven assistants, such as Siri, Cortana or Alexa and voice activated applications in noisy environments such as vehicles, offices and factories.

The multilingual lip-reading technology could also be used as an aid for the hard of hearing via automated subtitling and for preventing authentication fraud.

Liopa is led by entrepreneurs Liam McQuillan and Richard McConnell, who together have been involved in the creation of several indigenous Northern Ireland tech start-up companies that have successfully developed software products for the worldwide market and have achieved substantial exit values.

Confirming the latest funding milestone, Mr McQuillan said that voice technology is the future.

“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."

Hal Wilson of Techstart NI, who along with QUBIS were initial backers, added his support: “Liopa brings together great technology, a strong team and an exciting market opportunity This latest funding round marks a significant step forward and will support the team's plans to bring the LipRead technology to market.”

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