Ava Expands AI Closed Captioning to Desktop and Web Apps, Raises $ 4.5 Million at Scale – TechCrunch

The global shift to virtual workplaces has been a blessing and a curse for people with hearing loss. Having office conversations in text rather than speech is more accessible, but virtual meetings are no easier to follow than in-person meetings – which is why start real-time captioning Ava has seen a huge increase in the number of users. Riding the wave, the company has just announced two new products and a funding round of $ 4.5 million.

Ava has already made a name for herself in the deaf community as a useful live transcription tool for real conversations. Start the app and it will instantly hear and transcribe the speech around you, color-coded for each speaker (and named if it activates a QR code). Extremely useful, sure, but when Meetings stopped being in rooms and started being in Zooms, things got a little more difficult.

“Use cases have changed dramatically and people are finding that most of these tools are not accessible,” co-founder and CEO Thibault Duchemin told TechCrunch.

And while some tools may have limited captioning built-in (e.g. Skype and Google Meet), it may or may not be recorded, editable, precise, or convenient to view. For example, Meet’s ephemeral subtitles, while useful, only last for a moment before disappearing and are not speaker specific, making them of limited use to a deaf or hard of hearing person. trying to follow up on a multi-party call. And the languages ​​in which they are available are also limited.

As Duchemin explained, it started to seem much more convenient to have a separate transcription layer that is not specific to any particular service.

Image credits: Ava

So, Ava’s new product, a desktop and web application called Closed Captioning, which works with all major meeting services and online content, captioning it with the same on-screen display and making the content accessible. through the same account. This includes things like YouTube videos without subtitles, live webcasts, and even audio-only content like podcasts, in over 15 languages.

Individual speakers are tagged automatically if an app supports it, such as Zoom, or by asking people in the meeting to click a link that matches their identity with the sound of their voice. (There are privacy and confidentiality issues here, but they will differ on a case-by-case basis and are secondary to a person’s basic ability to participate.)

The transcripts all go to the person’s Ava app, allowing them to check in at their leisure or share with the rest of the meeting. This in itself is a difficult service to find, Duchemin said.

“It’s actually very complicated,” he said. “Today, if you have a meeting with four people, Ava is the only technology where you can have accurate labeling of who said what, and that’s extremely valuable when you think of the business. Otherwise, he said, unless someone takes detailed notes – unlikely, expensive and time consuming – meetings tend to end in black boxes.

For such a quality transcription, speech-to-text AI is not good enough, he admitted. It suffices to follow a conversation, but “we are talking about professionals and students who are deaf or hard of hearing,” says Duchemin. “They need solutions for meetings, classes, and in-person, and they’re not ready to go full AI. They need someone to clean up the transcript, so we provide that service. “

Features of the Ava application.

Image credits: Ava

Ava Scribe quickly brought in a human trained not in direct transcription but in the correction of the product of text-to-speech algorithms. This way, a deaf person attending a meeting or class can follow live, but also be sure that when they check the transcript an hour later, it will be accurate and not approximate.

Right now, transcription tools are being used as added value to existing products and suites, he said – ways to attract or retain customers. They do not start with the community of deaf and hard of hearing professionals and do not design according to their needs, which Ava has strived to do.

The explosion in popularity and obvious utility of their platform also led to this $ 4.5 million funding round, led by Initialized Capital and Khosla Ventures; Day One Ventures also participated.

Duchemin said they expected to double their team size with the money, and to really start marketing and getting big clients. “We’re very specialized, so we need a strong business model to grow,” he said. A strong, unique product is a good place to start, however.

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