Forget Typing: VoiceBox Technologies Raises Cash to Search for Info by Voice Alone

[Updated 9/3/09, 3:00 pm. See below.] Bellevue, WA-based VoiceBox Technologies, a developer of speech recognition systems for use in cars and mobile applications, has raised about $13 million from corporate investors in Asia over the past year. The investors include AutoNavi, Inventec, MiTAC, and the Morningside investment fund.

[An earlier version of this story cited a regulatory filing stating that VoiceBox had raised $7.4 million in equity and options out of an $18.6 million offering, and said the investors were not disclosed—Eds.]

Chief strategy officer Victor Melfi of VoiceBox says the company has raised a total of about $21 million to date, including investments from friends and family, and InfoSpace. He adds that VoiceBox is now looking to raise an additional $15 million from institutional investors, for which it has signed on Seattle investment bank Cascadia Capital. Melfi says VoiceBox is sensitive to customers in Europe and Asia—particularly China—and that it is developing technology for nine different languages. [This paragraph was added at 3:00 pm after speaking with Melfi—Eds.]

VoiceBox is developing what it calls “conversational voice search” software that lets you search, navigate, and discover content and services using natural spoken language. An example would be telling your car to give you directions to a particular location, pick a song to play, and adjust the temperature—all while you’re driving. Or telling your smartphone to search for a stock quote or other information online while you’re on the go.

Technologically, it’s a very hard problem. That’s because of ambient noise, differences between people’s accents and the way they make requests, and, fundamentally, the challenge of correctly understanding the meaning of what they’re asking for. Voicebox has partnerships with a number of companies including IBM, Toyota, and XM Satellite Radio to refine its software. The company also has an iPhone app for voice dialing.

VoiceBox was incorporated in 2001, and is led by its co-founder, chairman, and CEO Mike Kennewick, a former manager at Digital Equipment Corporation and then Microsoft. Kennewick previously founded Saros, a document management software company that was bought by FileNet in 1996. As of January 2008, VoiceBox had not taken any venture funding, but was considering taking a round, according to VentureBeat.

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