The Hindu | May 11, 2015
Imagine a pilot in command of an aircraft conversing with the air-traffic controller, and in a jiffy the text of their conversation magically appears on their iPads. Or, a judge reading out a lengthy verdict, even as the transcript gets ready almost immediately. Uniphore Software Systems, a Chennai-headquartered speech recognition firm, is working toward making such scenarios real.
“We want to be a Google for speech recognition services,” says Umesh Sachdev, Uniphore’s co-founder and CEO. He says everyone – from farmers and IT firms – needs voice-based solutions. And it already has a few products that can serve some of these constituents, including a Siri-like virtual assistant called Akeira.
That’s in the realm of man-machine communication, quite a complex area, and one that Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan likes aboutUniphore. That’s why, a few days back, he invested an undisclosed amount into this firm.
Before this, Uniphore has received investment from a series of investors, including IDG Ventures India, India Angel Network, Ray Stata, co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Analog Devices, and YourNest Angel Fund. It also received seed investment from IIT Madras’ Rural Technology and Business Incubator, Villgro Innovations Foundation, and the National Research Development Corporation.
Mr. Sachdev and his co-founder Ravi Saraogi, also Uniphore’s COO, started this journey by going around villages in Tamil Nadu to understand how people use cell phones. They found, to their astonishment, that many didn’t know to compose and send an SMS.
The duo then put up a poster in those villages, informing them that they could call a particular helpline with any query they might have. The result: in one month, they got 10,000 calls, with enquiries about everything from the weather to agriculture, and from finances to livelihood issues. The experiment ended, and Uniphore’s founders realised that scaling this up won’t make any sense.
That’s when they decided to “to replace the human call agent and computer and find out another form.” His earlier experience, as co-founder of mobile theft security product Singularis Technologies, helped, he says.
Mr. Sachdev says speech recognition and analytics help cut down cost and time. For instance, if someone wants to change his or her address in the bank records, the usual route is to call up the call centre and wait, sometimes for long, for the agent. With Uniphore’s solution, one could just leave a voice message – the database with automatically get updated.
The firm has 4 million users, and is confident of scaling this to 100 million in three years. With the fresh monies, it wants to enter the US market. The company’s revenues are said to be between $5 million and $10 million.