Vlingo Scores Software Deal, Big Investment from Yahoo

Speech-recognition startup Vlingo, which had just moved into its new Dunster Street digs in Harvard Square when I visited last August, has settled in with two major wins, both relating to Yahoo. At the CTIA Wireless conference in Las Vegas this morning, keynoter Marco Boerries, the executive vice president of Yahoo’s Connected Life division, unveiled a new voice-activated version of Yahoo’s oneSearch mobile search engine powered by Vlingo’s speech-recognition technology. At the same time, Vlingo announced the closing of a $20 million Series B funding round led by none other than Yahoo.

Yahoo oneSearch screen shotThe new voice-enabled version of Yahoo oneSearch is available starting today at m.yahoo.com/voice, though only in the United States, and only for owners of Blackberry’s Pearl, Curve, and 8800 series devices. I downloaded the program to Bob’s Blackberry, and it translated my spoken words into text search terms with near-perfect accuracy for most of the phrases I tried, such as “Boston Red Sox,” “United Airlines Flight 541,” “burritos in Cambridge, Massachusetts,” and “Kevin Spacey” (star of the new movie 21, which we’ve been writing about quite a bit lately).

Occasionally the search results themselves were a bit unpredictable: When I told the phone to look up “New York Marathon,” it sent me today’s weather conditions in Marathon, New York (37 degrees and sunny). And unfortunately, the software’s adaptive speech-recognition algorithms, which depend on a mix of grammar-based analysis and statistical machine learning techniques, didn’t fare well with the statistically uncommon word “Xconomy.” The first time I tried it, it translated my speech into “Mexicana de,” and the second time it went for “Tommy.” There doesn’t seem to be a way to verbally spell out words that the search engine can’t transliterate—but on the Blackberry you can easily correct the software’s mistakes by selecting alternative interpretations from a drop-down menu under the search term, or just by using the keyboard to delete and re-type a word.

Yahoo oneSearch screen shotYahoo launched oneSearch at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2007; the program’s main selling point is that it aggregates many types of search results—such as websites, weather reports, sports scores, photos, and news articles—on a single results page, making it easier to find the information you’re seeking on a mobile device with limited screen size and input options. The voice-enabled Blackberry version of oneSearch makes that process even simpler. In its announcement today, Yahoo said that it expects the “oneSearch with Voice” product to be available on more devices (and for users outside the United States) “over the coming months.”

Existing Vlingo investors Charles River Partners of Waltham, MA, and Sigma Partners of Boston also joined the company’s new funding round, which brings its total venture funding to $26.5 million. A Yahoo representative will join Vlingo’s board of directors as a result of the investment.

“Having a strategic investor of Yahoo!’s stature in the industry is a great validation of what has been built at Vlingo,” Izhar Armony, a general partner at Charles River Ventures, said in today’s funding announcement. “We look forward to having Yahoo! as an investor to help us grow this business.”

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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One response to “Vlingo Scores Software Deal, Big Investment from Yahoo”

  1. Nice story Wade! I just downloaded the app to my blackberry and playing with it now.