We talked to Liam McQuillan of Liopa about automated lip-reading technology, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Liam McQuillan: My family and I are coping well.
Our kids are remote learning as their schools are closed. I am also working from home, so I’ve become a part-time IT manager/teacher!!
The inability of our kids to mix with their friends is difficult for them, but we try our best to keep them entertained.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Liopa.
Liam McQuillan: I’ve worked in hi-tech start-ups here in Northern Ireland from the mid-90s onwards. I’ve co-founded a number of companies focused on developing valuable IP and innovative products. A number of these companies were successfully exited, realizing significant shareholder value.
In 2015, I was approached by researchers from Queens University Belfast, who had been developing automated Lip Reading technology. The uniqueness of the technology and the breadth of possible use cases was very exciting. I founded our current company, Liopa, with myself and three others – to productize and commercialize this research.
How does Liopa innovate?
Liam McQuillan: The majority of our team are PhD-qualified and skilled in the practical application of deep learning techniques to Speech Recognition and Computer Vision. We invest a significant portion of our engineering budget in innovative R&D. This commitment to funding R&D, coupled with a highly skilled team, ensures innovation is at Liopa’s core.
Our ability to innovate has resulted in Liopa being the first company to release commercially available VSR (Visual Speech Recognition) technology with our new SRAVI application. With SRAVI, we apply our VSR technology to help patients who have lost the ability to speak, to communicate with their loved ones & carers. SRAVI is deployed onto a smartphone, and when pointed towards the patient, it will analyze their lip movement and decipher what they are trying to say. SRAVI is in trials in Intensive Care units within the NHS and is currently being used on Covid-19 patients who have had tracheostomies & have difficulty speaking.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Liam McQuillan: Operationally, like the majority of companies, we have had to adapt. Our all staff work from home and we have reduced non-essential spending.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Liam McQuillan: Not particularly – pre-Covid, we continually reviewed our budgetary plans, and this discipline has helped us during the pandemic.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Liam McQuillan: Working from home has not been an issue.
We’re all tech-literate and familiar with the proliferation of cloud-based productivity tools that allow us to work remotely. Specifically, we use email/Slack/Google Hangouts/Zoom for communication and multiple cloud-based tools to develop, test & manage/control our development output.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Liam McQuillan: We are the first company to deploy VSR (Visual Speech Recognition) into a real-world, commercial environment. As such, we have no direct competition. Our technology can provide a speech recognition capability where there is no audio and solely from analysis of lip movements. We aim to stay ahead of the game by constantly innovating and ensuring our technology roadmap contains features that give us a competitive edge.