As of 2008, the company is a result of organic growth, mergers, and acquisitions. ScanSoft and Nuance merged in October 2005; before the merger, the two companies competed in the commercial large scale speech application business. The officially termed "merger" was a de facto acquisition of Nuance by ScanSoft, though the combined company changed its name to Nuance following the transaction. Before 1999, ScanSoft was known as Visioneer, a hardware and software scanner company. In 1999, Visioneer bought ScanSoft – a Xerox spin-off – and adopted ScanSoft as the company name. The original ScanSoft had its roots in Kurzweil Computer Products, a software company that developed the first omni-font character recognition system.
In September 2005, ScanSoft Inc. acquired and merged with Nuance Communications, and the resulting company adopted the Nuance name. For a decade prior to that, the two companies competed in the commercial large-scale speech application business.
In 1974, Raymond Kurzweil founded the Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc. to develop the first omni-font optical character recognition system — a computer program capable of recognizing text written in any normal font. In 1980, Kurzweil sold his company to Xerox. The company became known as Xerox Imaging Systems (XIS), and later ScanSoft.
In March 1992, a new company called Visioneer, Inc. was founded to develop scanner hardware and software products, such as PaperPort. Visioneer eventually sold its hardware division to Primax Electronics, Ltd. in January 1999. Two months later, in March, Visioneer acquired ScanSoft from Xerox to form a new public company with ScanSoft as the company name.
1974 — Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc. founded to develop the first omni-font optical character recognition system
1980 — Xerox buys Kurzweil Computer Products and runs it as Xerox Imaging Systems (XIS), and later ScanSoft.
March 1992 — Visioneer, Inc. founded to develop scanner hardware & software products.
January 1999 — Visioneer sold its hardware division to Primax Electronics, Ltd.
March 1999 — Visioneer acquired ScanSoft from Xerox and adopts ScanSoft as new company-wide name.
Prior to 2001, ScanSoft focused primarily on desktop imaging software such as TextBridge , PaperPort and OmniPage. Beginning with the December 2001 acquisition of Lernout & Hauspie, the company moved into the speech recognition business and began to compete with Nuance.
Nuance history prior to the 2005 merger with ScanSoft
Nuance was founded in 1994 as a spin-off of SRI International's Speech Technology and Research (STAR) Laboratory to commercialize the speaker-independent speech recognition technology developed for the US government at SRI. Based in Menlo Park, California, Nuance deployed their first commercial large-scale speech application in 1996. Their initial route to market was through call center automation. Call centers had just centralized the branch-office telephone handling function throughout many large companies. The highest cost of running call centers is the cost of staff. Early projects were completely developed by Nuance to prove the commercial practicality and benefits.
Early Nuance applications ran on Windows NT-based and Solaris operating systems, and commonly relied on Dialogic boards for the telephony hardware.
1994 — Nuance spun off from SRI's STAR Lab
1996 — Nuance deployed its first commercial speech application
2000 April 13 — Nuance files initial public offering on the NASDAQ under the symbol NUAN
2000 November 15 — Nuance acquires SpeechFront voice instant messaging company for $10.5MM in cash and stock.
In simple terms; the technology produced allowed a computer to determine what a speaker was saying within a specific and limited vocabulary of phrases. Its key advantage over technologies such as ViaVoice was that the system did not need training for the specific speaker. This permitted the use of the system, so-called Speaker-Independent Natural Language Speech Recognition, (SI-NLSR or just NLSR) for call automation.
The limited vocabulary was typically a few thousand different variations of phrases. In complex systems this could be in the low millions. At the time, these systems were pushing the limits of computer processing power in commodity Intelx86 servers until the early 2000s.
During the late 1990s and into the 2000s Nuance competed against other NLSR vendors including Philips SpeechPearl, SpeechWorks and other smaller players which were typically geographically focused such as Vocalis in the UK which used proprietary PCI cards with DSPs on board to improve the efficiency and density of the system.
Each speech-recognition engine provider had to determine how to convert written text into sounds. Determining how written text is spoken is a hugely challenging task in itself. Languages are "modeled", samples of real spoken-language is recorded and analyzed to create a language model. The higher the quality the language model the better the experience of the user, especially in complex interactions. Different language models were required for different dialects such as Flemish being a variant of Dutch, or Swiss German being a dialect of High-German. Different models were also created for different qualities of telephone connection. Europe's Philips had by far the largest language coverage which included Flemish and Welsh, although these may have been funded by an EU grant or subsidy.
Later, Nuance sold licenses (training and consulting) to their technology to third parties, including independent software vendors and interactive voice response (IVR) vendors who would build applications on top of an IVR platform. SpeechWorks on the other hand would typically deliver the application with the technology or with a group of key delivery partners. The technology was integrated into most of the leading IVR products from Avaya, Nortel Periphonics, Envox, Syntellect and many others. The requirements of telephony reliability meant many of these solutions ran on various versions of UNIX.
Nuance 7 was launched in the late 1990s and was an efficient network-distributed NLSR speech recognition solution; it ran on Unix and Windows. Nuance 8 added Statistical Language Modeling, an adaption of technologies used in technologies, such as ViaVoice to improve the range of phrases that the system could recognize at the expense of greater implementation cost and complexity. Nuance 8.x series also introduced the W3C vocabulary definition language GrXML in addition to and eventual replacement of Nuance's proprietary and very concise Grammar Specification Language, GSL.
Nuance 8.5 was the last point release before the take-over by ScanSoft.
These systems were significantly different from the technology used in consumer speech recognition products such as ViaVoice, which is now also a Nuance product.
Nuance marketed their brand and technology at call center exhibitions although they rarely delivered solutions directly relying on ISV and telecom manufacturing partners instead, such as Nortel Periphonics, Avaya, Syntellect and others. Nuance provided a core component of speech recognition solutions for call automation and leveraged partners to deliver solutions.[clarification needed] Many problematic solutions were developed by traditional telephony developers building speech solutions. designing and developing speech solutions requires a different skill-set and mind-set to that of traditional DTMF solutions.
For a couple of years prior to the takeover by ScanSoft, Nuance started selling solutions directly, including their Call-Steering product which was predominantly a call center call-routing product, which determined the skill group required for the call based on responses to reasonably open questions asked of the caller.
Nuance 9.0 is the first release (excluding service packs) of the recognizer product since the acquisition and is an amalgam of the technologies acquired from various companies including Philips Speech Pearl, Speechworks, Nuance Recognizer and others. Further information is not known about this product
Siri is an application that combines speech recognition with advanced natural language processing. The artificial intelligence, which required both advances in the underlying algorithms and leaps in processing power both on mobile devices and the servers that share the workload, allows software to understand not just words but the intentions behind them.
Telephony application process
User calls the telephony application for call automation
Application loads the phrases for the application and prompts the user to provide speech input (asks a question), and opens a stream from the telephony input to the speech recognition software.
User speaks and this is streamed to the recognizer.
Recognizer returns a number of potential results with probability for each one that it is correct.
Determines the start of speech input
uses audio techniques to remove background noise
slices the audio into small sections (10 to 100 ms in length)
determines the sound in each slice
matches the combination of sounds for the spoken phrase with the possible sound combinations provided by the possible phrases
A typical Nuance recognizer configuration required four or five applications to be started, often monitored by a sixth application.
Nuance License Manager: kept a watch on the number concurrent speech calls in use.
recognition client: it is the interface between the IVR speech path and the speech recognizing software, the recserver. The recclient can be developed into the IVR software.
distributes the load over the recservers as required to balance load and to provide fault-tolerance.
where the speech is compared and processed against known vocabulary.
an application that dynamically adds words or phrases to an expected vocabulary for recognition.
a Windows service or Unix daemon that monitors and maintains the above processes, restarting them if required.
Except for the watchdog which should be running on all the nuance speech servers, the other processes may be spread over a farm of servers, connected by an IP network with low latency and high-bandwidth, usually a dedicated LAN segment. The resource manager directs which resources it thinks are least utilized.
Nuance vs. the competition
The key difference between Nuance and Speechworks products of the time[when?] was that they used different methods for "End-Pointing", the process for determining the beginning and end of speech. Nuance looked for a change in "Voice-Energy" — essentially a significant change in volume within a specific set of frequencies, whereas SpeechWorks tried to look for sound combinations that were likely to be speech based on the phrases pre-loaded into the system. It may seem that the Nuance method was crude, but this was implemented due to the limitations of the computational power available in computer servers at the time and the need to provide high-density applications, i.e., not require too many servers for a deployment.
Prior to the 2005 merger, ScanSoft acquired other companies to expand its business. Unlike ScanSoft, Nuance did not actively acquire companies prior to their merger. After the merge, the company continued to grow through acquisition.
SpeechWorks' major products were speech recognition and synthesis systems, which were later merged with Nuance's speech product line. It had previously acquired Eloquent Technologies, Inc., of Ithaca, New York in 2000 for $17 million and T-Netix.
September 26, 2008 — Philips Speech Recognition SystemsGMBH (PSRS), a business unit of Royal Philips Electronics of Vienna, Austria for about €66 million, or US$96.1 million. The acquisition of Philips Speech Recognition Systems sparked an antitrust investigation by the US Department of Justice. This investigation was focused upon medical transcription services. This investigation was closed in December, 2009.
October 1, 2008 — SNAPin Software, Inc. of Bellevue, Washington — $180 million in shares of common stock.
October 5, 2009 — Ecopy of Nashua, New Hampshire. Under the terms of the agreement, net consideration was approximately $54 million in Nuance common stock.
December 30, 2009 — Spinvox of Marlow, UK for $102.5m comprising $66m in cash and $36.5m in stock.
February 16, 2010, Nuance announced they acquired MacSpeech for an undisclosed amount
July 2010, Nuance acquired iTa P/L, an Australian IVR and speech services company.
November 2010, Nuance acquired PerSay, a voice biometrics-based authentication company for $12.6 million.
June 2011, Nuance acquired Equitrac, the world leader in print management and cost recovery software.
June 2011, Nuance acquired SVOX, a speech technology company specializing in the automotive, mobile, and consumer electronics markets.
July 2011, Nuance acquired Webmedx, a provider of medical transcription and editing services. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
August 2011, Loquendo announced Nuance acquired it. Loquendo provided a range of speech technologies for telephony, mobile, automotive, embedded and desktop solutions including text-to-speech (TTS), automatic speech recognition (ASR) and voice biometrics solutions. Nuance paid 53 million euros.
October, 2011, Nuance acquired Swype, a company that produces input software for touchscreen displays, for more than $100m.
December 2011 — Nuance acquired Vlingo, after repeatedly suing Vlingo over patent infringement. The Cambridge-based Vlingo was trying to make voice enabling applications easier, by using their own speech-to-text J2ME/Brew application API.
April 2012 — Nuance acquired Transcend Services. Transcend utilizes a combination of its proprietary Internet-based voice and data distribution technology, customer based technology, and home-based medical language specialists to convert physicians’ voice recordings into electronic documents. It also provides outsourcing transcription and editing services on the customer’s platform.
June 2012 — Nuance acquired SafeCom, a provider of print management and cost recovery software noted for their integration with Hewlett-Packard printing devices.
September 2012 — Nuance acquired Ditech Networks for $22.5 million.
September 2012 — Nuance Acquired Quantim, QuadraMed’s HIM Business — a provider of information technology solutions for the healthcare industry
October 2012 — Nuance Acquired J.A. Thomas and Associates (JATA) — a provider of physician-oriented, clinical documentation improvement (CDI) programs for the healthcare industry