Apple quietly acquired an automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology company called Novauris Technologies, which grew out of Dragon Systems R&D U.K. Ltd., the British research subsidiary of Dragon Systems, a well-known voice dictation pioneer. Founded in 2002, the company was currently being managed by Yoon Kim (CEO), Melvyn Hunt (Co-founder) and John Bridle (Co-founder), whose backgrounds include work at Dragon, Nortel, SRI (which helped to birth Apple acquisition'siri), Marconi and Aurix.
Update: Apple has issued a confirmation, of sorts, that it has purchased Novauris, telling TechCrunch that "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."
Novauris actually began operations in March 2002, after reassembling almost all the former Dragon Systems U.K. R&D team. Founder Jim Baker funded the initial development work and originally owned the company, but Bridle and Hunt bought him out along with some help from private investors in September 2004. They then brought on Kim, who had been heading up TTS company NeoSpeech, as CEO.
The acquisition apparently took place last year, but had not been announced. At Apple as of last fall, the team is now working on improving Siri, the speech-based virtual assistant technology that comes pre-installed on Apple's mobile devices.
We reached out to Apple for comment. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The Novauris website doesn't make any note of the Apple acquisition, but when we rang their U.K. offices, Novauris co-founder Hunt answered the phone, "Apple." He confirmed that he and the team now work for Apple, and that Novauris itself is no longer an active entity.
Novauris may not have been a household name, but its founders were internationally known speech researchers, and key members while at Dragon Systems, a company known for products like "DragonDictate" and "Dragon NaturallySpeaking."
Novauris had been developing its own large-vocabulary, automatic'speech recognition (ASR) technology for access to information stored locally on mobile devices or remotely on servers, which they patented in the U.S. and abroad, and licensed to major corporations worldwide.
One of the biggest differentiators about Novauris in terms of the competitive landscape, is that they operated in both the embedded and server space, and they also owned the core engine. This of course would make them a valuable asset for Apple, which had tried to acquire Nuance, the technology that powers Apple's Siri - a partnership that has long been known, but only officially confirmed last year.
For a bit of background, Nuance merged with ScanSoft in 2005, a company which itself had acquired the rights to the Dragon product line, offering a further connection between these companies.
Novauris's products already'supported iOS and iPhone via its Embedded ASR (NovaSearch Compact) and Server ASR (NovaSearch Server) technologies, the former for spoken access to on-device info for ARM-based mobile phones, and the latter a network-based ASR technology for mobile and telephony services.
According to a Novauris fact sheet, its customers included OEMs and carrier partners such as Verizon Wireless, Panasonic, Samsung, SingTel, Alpine, BMW and others. Verizon, for example, used Novauris for its mobile "Get It Now Search" service for BREW devices back in 2006.
The Wall St. Journal covered one of Novauris' demo apps back in 2011, a London guide called "Speak&Go London," noting how fast and impressive the speech recognition was, because it took place on the mobile phone itself.
Meanwhile, a 2012 partnership with Panasonic saw the two firms teaming up to develop "NovaLite," a software automatic speech recognizer that would be offered to consumer electronic manufacturers who wanted to voice-enable their products. And Novauris teamed up with Existor that same year to build a Siri-like app for any device.
The company's voice recognition products supported a wide range of languages, including U.S., U.K. and Singapore English, German, Canadian French, Japanese, Korean, French, Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese and others.
Its applications and services are capable of searching on-device content like contacts, apps, FAQs, music, and translation, plus could assist with navigation or search for content in a device's App Store, and more.
The company has offices in both the U.K. and U.S. Yoon Kim is currently in Cupertino, having been based in the Bay Area previously while at Novauris.
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