Belfast start-up raises more seed funding to develop lip-reading technology

Liopa co-founders Richard McConnell, Liam McQuillan and Fabian Campbell-West pictured with some of the Belfast team
Gary McDonald Business Editor

SPEECH recognition start-up Liopa in Belfast has raised another chunk of seed funding as it continues its quest to fully commercialise its innovative Lip Read technology.

The Queen's University spin-out has completed a successful fund-raising campaign on the SyndicateRoom crowdfunding website, raising two and a half times its target amount in just four weeks, with strong backing from a number of angel investors and the Fund Twenty8 EIS fund.

Founded in 2015, Liopa is commercialising more than 10 years of research in the field of speech and image processing.

Its technology can determine speech by analysing the movement of a user's lips as they speak into a camera. It can also be used to prevent “spoofing” and security issues in facial recognition systems.

Liopa's key focus is improving the accuracy of voice driven applications which have risen in popularity after virtual assistants such as Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa have brought voice interaction into the mainstream.

Now corporations such as Google and Sonos are following their lead. But these voice driven systems rely on audio speech recognition (ASR) to determine speech, which means their accuracy deteriorates with the increase of real-world audio noise – for example, in a busy restaurant or outside on a windy day.

Liopa's visual speech recognition technology, LipRead, is designed to decipher speech from lip movements and is therefore agnostic to audio noise.

It hopes to augment existing voice driven systems in real-world environments, improving accuracy when background noise is present.

The company's chief executive Liam McQuillan said: “This investment will allow us to grow our engineering capability. We'll be able to accelerate the exciting developments we have planned in our roadmap, and protect our valuable IP.”

SyndicateRoom's co-founder Tom Britton added: "The team behind Liopa have spent a combined 50-plus man years researching or developing the technology.

"The applications for their platform are wide ranging, everything from helping law enforcement decipher what's been said on CCTV footage to giving those who have lost their ability to vocalise a new way to easily communicate. We're delighted to play a role in such an innovative technology that is applying machine learning for an ultimate good."

Launched in September 2013, the SyndicateRoom online investment platform has helped 170 early-stage UK businesses secure more than £215 million in funding through its investor-led equity crowdfunding model.

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