A Cambridge tech spin-out that believes its audio-AI is set to revolutionise the effectiveness of hearing aids in noisy environments has secured a huge £3.1 million cash injection after closing an investment round.
AudioTelligence has developed AI-powered microphone technology that is able to isolate single voices, or sources of noise, from the kind of competing noise sources that can often be encountered in busy public spaces or at social gatherings. The technology was originally developed for home audio speakers but it is perhaps in the hearing aid market that the company could have even greater success and bring added value.
Hearing aids can be a very useful way to help mitigate age-related hearing loss as well as for those born with some level of deafness or suffer hearing impairment as the result of an accident or illness. In the case of age-related hearing loss, one of the first noticeable signs of deterioration is the loss of the ability for the ear to pick out one person’s voice from competing voices and background noise. As Andrew Williamson, investment director at Cambridge Innovation Capital, the VC that led AudioTelligence’s recent raise, points out – ‘this could be the difference between having a conversation and not’.
The company is actually a second degree spin-out, having been set up as an independent company from Cedar Audio, itself initially a Cambridge University spin-out. Cedar’s expertise is in speech enhancement and the restoration of corrupted or poor quality audio recordings.
Spin-outs are a common restructuring when a small company, or research lab, moves to raise investment cash to develop and/or bring to market a particular technology, product or related suite of products. It can help in the fundraising process as investors prefer a cleaner structure that is a pure play on the technology or product their cash is being used to develop. It mitigates the risk that less commercially successful activities of the bigger company dilute returns. If the spin-out results from a university project, a company is also necessary for outside investment to be raised and for commercial contracts to be signed.
As well as the hoped for next generation hearing aids the technology is planned to be used in, the rise of the market for voice-activated assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa is also an area that AudioTelligence’s technology could be used in. One of the biggest challenges that face such devices is the margin for error in understanding commands if there is competing noise such as a conversation going on in the background, the television is on or music is playing.
Should AudioTelligence’s technology prove superior to that of the big companies competing in that space, from Google to Amazon and Apple, seed investors such as Cambridge Innovation Capital could potentially secure a major pay-out if the company is later acquired or licenses out its patents to a big fish. And hopefully Granny will also be able to carry on being her usual charming self at noisy family parties too!