Belfast AI Startup Liopa Raises Seed funding on the Syndicate Room crowdfunding platform

A spin-out from Queen’s University Belfast and the Centre for Secure IT, Liopa is developing lipreading technology to enable visual speech recognition. 

AI-based technology startup Liopa has completed a very successful fund-raising campaign on the SyndicateRoom crowdfunding website. The company raised 2.5 times the target amount in a 4 week period. It received strong backing from a number of angel investors and the Fund Twenty8 EIS fund. 

Founded in 2015, Liopa is commercialising over 10 years of research in the field of Speech and Image processing. The company’s technology can determine speech by analysing the movement of a user’s lips as they speak into a camera. In addition, the technology can be used to prevent “spoofing” and security issues in facial recognition systems. 

Liopa’s primary focus is improving the accuracy of voice driven applications which have risen in popularity. Virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa have brought voice interaction into the mainstream. And now corporations such as Google and Sonos are following their lead. These voice driven systems, however, rely on audio speech recognition (ASR) to determine speech. This means their accuracy deteriorates with the increase of real-world audio noise – for example, in a busy restaurant or outside on a windy day. 

Liopa’s visual speech recognition technology, LipRead, is designed to decipher speech from lip movements. It is therefore agnostic to audio noise. Liopa hopes to augment existing voice driven systems in real-world environments, improving accuracy when background noise is present. The company calls this usage of LipRead “ASR-Assist”. 

Speaking about the funding round, Liopa’s CEO Liam McQuillan said: “This investment will allow us to grow our engineering capability and AI talent.” He continued, “We’ll be able to accelerate the exciting developments we have planned in our roadmap, and protect our valuable IP.”

SyndicateRoom’s co-founder, Tom Britton commented, “It’s no wonder the technology being developed by Liopa is so incredible. The team behind it have spent a combined 50+ man years researching or developing the technology. Their backgrounds range from Senior Academics to C- suite Commercial ranging from startups to the likes of Intel. The applications for their platform are wide ranging, everything from helping law enforcement decipher what’s been said on CCTV footage to giving those who have lost their ability to vocalise a new way to easily communicate. We’re delighted to play a role in such an innovative technology that is applying machine learning and AI for an ultimate good.” 

Launched in September 2013, SyndicateRoom is an online investment platform. It has helped 170+ early-stage UK businesses secure more than £215 million in funding through its investor-led equity crowdfunding model.  



What is lipreading?

Lipreading is a communication technique used by the hard-of-hearing.  Unlike sign language it doesn’t require both parties to be trained in the technique. From an accuracy perspective however, human lipreading is generally poor. Indeed, it requires intense levels of concentration for the lipreader. As such, it is not a favoured communication technique for the hard-of-hearing.  

The challenges

The optimal scenario for the lipreader is a face-to-face engagement with someone they know – ideally whose lip movements are familiar. Lipreading strangers is much more challenging. More often than not, interactions and environments are not ideal. Lipreading multiple speakers in a group is virtually impossible. People do not turn to face the lipreader, or speak one at a time in an orderly fashion!  Additionally, different mouth shapes, facial hair, rate of speech and distance from speaker all create problems for even the best trained lipreaders.  

Low accuracy

As a result, the accuracy of human lipreading is unfortunately very low.  Most lipreaders actually try to pick out keywords and ‘fill in the blanks’ given the context of the conversation.  In fact, lipreading is said to be 80% guesswork! Studies have shown that the best performing lipreaders struggle to achieve greater than 50% accuracy in ideal conditions.  These accuracy levels tail off markedly in longer tests, as the lipreader tires. Amongst the standard hearing population lipreading accuracy is about 10% – 1 word in 10.    

Why being lipreader “friendly” is important

Effective communication techniques allow the hard of hearing to stay connected to the world around them. They build confidence and develop social and communication skills. Not being able to understand what is being said can be frustrating and lead to a sense of isolation. Communication is part of human contact and is vital for mental well-being.  It is important that the hearing population are aware of the difficulties the hard of hearing have in using techniques such as lipreading. They should ensure, where possible, that they communicate in such a way that is best for the lipreader.  

You can read some suggestions on how to more lipreader “friendly”:  Healthy Hearing: Resolve to Improve Your Lipreading Skills and this Deaf Expressions blog: Five Tips to make Lipreading Easier. 

What we’re doing to help

Liopa is developing an automated lipreading platform – LipRead. We use videos of people speaking to train our AI-based LipRead platform to recognise speech from lip movements. LipRead is initially targeted at constrained vocabularies. This includes the command set for an in-vehicle voice-activation unit, for instance. It can be used to  improve the accuracy of other current speech recognition technologies, especially which analyse audio and are susceptible to background noise. 

Over time, LipRead will support larger vocabularies and more languages with increasing accuracy. With these additional capabilities, we plan to provide a smartphone application that can assist the hard-of-hearing in the difficult task of lipreading.

Contact us to find out more! 

 

 



Visual Speech Recognition - Read My Lips photo

Liopa commences trials of AI-based LipSecure with established User Authentication and Identity Verification providers to provide enhanced anti-spoofing capabilities.

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EU ERDF

Liopa has received an Invest NI Grant for Research and Development, targeted towards a project to develop LipRead, a Visual Speech Recognition (VSR) product.

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Belfast-based technology specialist Liopa has commercially launched the world’s first automated Lip Reader. The service will initially be used to prevent ‘spoofing’ in Facial Recognition systems where there is a threat of compromise from images or videos of the subject being presented by an imposter.

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Investment secured

Liopa to bring visual speech-recognition platform to market. Belfast’s Liopa has raised $1m in funding led by Techstart NI and QUBIS to commercialise its LipRead platform for a global audience. Read the article in full here.

Liopa secure investment

Liopa has secured $1million in funding – led by its initial backers, techstart NI, and QUBIS – which will enable it to commercialise the LipRead platform and actively market it for global use.

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News Story Image

Belfast firm is building lip-reading tools to improve speech-controlled systems.
Neil Briscoe, renowned Motoring journalist, pens excellent article on Liopa’s LipREAD in an in-vehicle environment. Read in full here.

 

Voice applications are all the rage right now, with Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant seeing an upsurge of new users. Lopia has used machine learning to create a unique automated lip reading application.

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Investment

Liopa recently completed a ‘pre-seed’ funding round designed to take the company through development of technology demonstrator and early market proving.

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