Facebook and Instagram owner Meta has bought Audio analysisa Cambridge-based startup building AI-powered sound recognition software.
Founded in 2010 by Chris Mitchell, Audio Analytic aims to extend consumer technology with high-performance sound recognition and has trained its AI to recognize a wide variety of sounds, including smoke detectors, barking dogs, breaking windows, or even crying babies.
According to the company websiteits technology can give machines the “world’s most accurate, robust and compact hearing”.
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audio analytics, de Telegraaf reports, will join Meta’s Reality Labs division tasked with developing AR and VR technology. This is all part of Zuckerberg’s plan to make the metaverse the “future of the Internet.”
Specifically, the startup falls under the audio research department, which focuses on making virtual sounds and speech more realistic.
There’s little doubt that Zuckerberg hopes that Audio Analytic will help support Meta’s hitherto unprofitable pivot in the virtual reality world. For reference, the company’s Reality Labs division lost $3.7 billion in the third quarter of 2022, which followed a loss of $2.8 billion in the second quarter. In addition, the company expects further losses in the coming year.
According to Meta’s Q3 Report“We expect Reality Labs’ operating losses to increase significantly year over year in 2023.”
Silicon Valley continues to chew European startups
This isn’t the first time Meta has leveraged European startups to help it create and dominate the metaverse space.
In the summer of 2022, the tech giant acquired the Berlin-based Lofelt, which specializes in haptic technology, especially wearables that can help people experience the virtual world around them. In other words, exactly the type of technology needed to improve our experience with the metaverse.
While in 2020, Meta (then Facebook) acquired Scape Technologiesa company with expertise in augmented reality maps.
And as for the European-based audio startups, Audio Analytic isn’t alone in being hijacked by big tech companies.
In 2012, Amazon bought Evicwho developed the voice assistant technology that became part of Amazon’s Alexa. Apple acquires voice recognition company VocalIQas well as booting images Spectral Edge to help improve the iPhone’s camera.
There is a long history of US companies taking over European startups before they can grow properly. Obviously some of this is expected – few of us would turn down millions of dollars and the opportunity to scale – but it could be troubling that there are so few big tech players on the continent.
The question, then, is whether the EU should be involved in funding outstanding startups to become unicorns, rather than being picked up by Silicon Valley giants? And until there’s a solid answer to that question, we’ll see this pattern keep repeating.