Voice Tech Startup Voca.ai Acquired by Snap Inc. for $70M: Report
Snapchat parent company Snap Inc. has acquired enterprise voice assistant developer Voca.ai for $70 million, according to a report from Calcalist. The Israeli startup creates custom voice assistants for call centers and helped set up the COVID Voice Detector test to gather data and design a vocal diagnostics tool for COVID-19.
Voca Snapped Up
Israel-based Voca.ai was founded three years ago to supply companies with AI replacements for call centers that could answer questions and converse with customers who called. The AI uses natural language understanding to determine not just what the person is saying but their tone, pitch, and other indicators of the caller’s mood. As the COVID-19 health crisis grew this spring, Voca and Carnegie Mellon University started collecting and analyzing people’s voices to hunt for vocal biomarkers related to the virus using Voca’s technology. The data collection is the first step toward using artificial intelligence to diagnose people based on how they sound.
“In viruses like the coronavirus that harm the respiratory system, there’s a high probability we might find a pattern in the way a person speaks using voice biomarkers research,” Voca.ai co-founder Alan Bekker previously told Voicebot.
The acquisition news is based on an anonymous source, so we’ve reached out to Voca for confirmation and will update this report with their reply. If accurate, the acquisition would be a stunning exit for Voca and its investors. The startup has previously raised about $6 million from investors, including Flint Capital and American Express Ventures. The 35 employees will shift to working for Snap, becoming the Israeli base for the company. This won’t be Snap’s first Israeli tech startup acquisition if it is true. In late 2016, Snap bought augmented reality startup Cimagine for between $30 million and $40 million.
Voca.ai’s flexibility in analyzing and generating speech with AI is what drew Snap’s attention, the report suggests. Snapchat began experimenting with voice interaction in June when it enabled filter searches by voice. The Voice Scan feature takes vocal requests and looks for lenses related to the request, choosing the options based on which camera is on too. Users can access the music and games embedded on the social media platform by voice request too. Voice Scan is more sophisticated than the 2018 addition of speech recognition on lenses, which would activate effects when the user spoke a keyword. Voice Scan uses SoundHound’s Houndify voice AI platform but acquiring Voca.ai points to Snap preferring an in-house voice platform.