If you use Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, you likely command the voice-based platforms to do things like play music, turn on the lights, or set a timer.
Now there’s a new player in the market that wants to take those conversations to another level. Voysis, which launches today with $8 million in funding, is a voice AI platform that enables natural language instruction and search for third-party enterprises. In other words, Voysis allows users to speak directly with individual brands in order to find the products they’re looking for more easily.
For instance, let’s say you’re furniture shopping, and you’re looking to purchase a modern, round, glass-top coffee table under $500. If you go to a Voysis-enabled e-commerce app, you’d be able to speak directly into the app and describe your exact specifications using natural language.
The voice tech company has raised $8 million in Series A funding from Polaris Partners, a venture capital firm investing in technology and healthcare companies. Noel Ruane, a venture partner with Polaris who helped build Voysis in its early days, says he's investing in the company largely because he believes the market is ready for this type of technology.
"In my career as an investor, I haven't seen an opportunity like this where a company is right at the heart of a paradigm shift," says Ruane, who will also serve as the executive chairman of Voysis. "There's been a shift in how humans interact with machines and applications."
Though Voysis’s business model is still in flux, the startup plans to partner with companies in the fields of e-commerce, entertainment, automotive, and travel. Once a business pushes its data to Voysis, the voice platform integrates with the company’s consumer-facing app or website. That partnership model differentiates the startup from companies whose voice technology is already well established, says “Apple’s goal is to have a general purpose voice assistant with Siri that handles day-to-day tasks,” says Voysis founder and CEO Peter Cahill. “And they’re not really trying to provide a platform to enable third-party companies to have their own assistant.”
Cahill, who has spent 15 years researching speech technology and neural networks, says many companies believe voice is the next big interface. And it looks like customers are increasingly comfortable speaking to machines. “2017 is the year voice becomes a mainstream ‘operating system,’ as we attain 'good enough' speech recognition,” Greylock Partners’ Sarah Guo wrote in a January blog post.
Indeed, the voice technology space has been gaining steam. Mycroft.ai, an open source voice assistant, is another player in the voice AI industry that also plans to partner with large corporations. The two-year-old company is reportedly in talks with Jaguar Land Rover to deploy Mycroft in Jaguar vehicles.
Because much of this technology is still very early-stage, many traditional companies could have reservations about implementing voice interfaces in their own products. Cahill, however, is optimistic about getting parters on board because they could gain valuable data about how users interact with the brand.
“We’re very interested in providing data back to the company,” Cahill says. “Imagine if you’ve got tens of thousands of users talking to your e-commerce store. Analyzing data around what products users are asking for could be extremely powerful.”