Zoom Acquires Real-Time Translation Startup Kites
Zoom has bought AI-powered translation startup Karlsruhe Information Technology Solutions (Kites) for an undisclosed sum. The German startup’s researchers have built a machine translation tool designed to perform real-time translations among multiple languages; a feature Zoom sees obvious benefit in providing to customers.
Kites was founded six years ago by Alex Waibel and Sebastian Stüker, both faculty members at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Waibel set up Facebook’s first language technology group and founded speech translation research network C-STAR in the 1990s. Kites grew out of that research, at first aiming for improving communications among academics internationally before broadening its ambitions. The startup claims its AI is the faster and most accurate of any translation tech of its kind, with 95% accuracy despite only a second of delay. It can even correct its wording if the context shifts while the speaker continues. The scientists on the Kites team will start working with Zoom to integrate and improve its technology for the video conferencing platform. Appropriately enough, the Kites team will stay in Germany, communicating mostly digitally with the American Zoom staff.
“Kites emerged with the mission of breaking down language barriers and making seamless cross-language interaction a reality of everyday life, and we have long admired Zoom for its ability to easily connect people across the world,” Waibel and Stüker said in a statement. “We know Zoom is the best partner for Kites to help advance our mission and we are excited to see what comes next under Zoom’s incredible innovation engine.”
The acquisition fits into the ecosystem of third-party tools created for Zoom that began appearing this year, including for translation like Ligmo, which claims to translate among 80 languages overall, with 100 pairs of languages able to be translated in real-time. There’s also a boom in monolingual transcription for Zoom. Australian voice AI developer Dubber launched its Unified Call Recording in April, capable of recording and analyzing conversations directly from Zoom. A month later, Otter released a virtual assistant that runs quietly in the background of meetings, records and transcribes the audio, and takes notes in real-time. Zoom can certainly afford more outright acquisitions after selling around $1.75 billion worth of shares a few months ago. The company is reportedly sitting on billions of dollars in cash for that purpose.
“We are continuously looking for new ways to deliver happiness to our users and improve meeting productivity, and MT solutions will be key in enhancing our platform for Zoom customers across the globe,” Zoom president of product and engineering Velchamy Sankarlingam said. “With our aligned missions to make collaboration frictionless – regardless of language, geographic location, or other barriers – we are confident Kites’ impressive team will fit right in with Zoom.”