Natural Language Interface Startup Baobab Nets $2.5 Million Seed Money

[JERUSALEM] Baobab Technologies has raised $2.5 million in seed funding from Intel Capital and others in a round led by the strugglingYazam investment fund to develop what they hope will be the next paradigm: the natural language user interface.

“We will start shipping products in the fourth quarter of this year,” said Baobab chief executive Jacob Vind.

The company’s focus is on a “natural user interface” (NUI) as the next step after the graphical user interface (GUI).

The company’s FrontWare product line “understands” text- (including SMS messages) or voice-based natural language input. The first markets that Baobab is aiming at are the retail and financial markets.

“It will be banks, travel or retail,” said Vind, “companies that need to provide support to large numbers of customers. We are trying to automate the interaction and make it intuitive and natural.”

Vind sees 2001 as the year when voice recognition, which has been available for several years, albeit in a limited capacity, will come into its own. However, recognition is not enough.

“Recognition by itself is cool but there is nothing much you can do with it,” said Vind. What is needed, he said, are tools such as those that Baobab is developing for understanding more complex input than simply a few words.

Competition in the voice interface field comes from companies including Nuance, Philips and Lernout and Hauspie, although the future of Lernout and Hauspie, once market leaders, has recently appeared uncertain.

Baobab was founded at the beginning of 2000 and has 17 employees in its Hod Hasharon headquarters. Investors in this seed round led by Yazam, whose future has also been the subject of much press speculation recently, included Big Sky Partners.

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