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South Korean startup Cochlear.ai raises $2 million Series A to detect the sounds missed by speech recognition

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Sit quietly for a moment and pay attention to the different sounds around you. You might hear appliances beeping, cars honking, a dog barking, someone sneezing. These are all noises Cochlear.ai, a Seoul-based sound recognition startup, is training its SaaS platform to identify. The company’s goal is to develop software that can identify almost any kind of sound and be used in a wide range of smart hardware, including phones, speakers and cars, co-founder and chief executive Yoonchang Han told TechCrunch.

Cochlear.ai announced it has raised $2 million in Series A funding, led by Smilegate Investment, with participation from Shinhan Capital and NAU IB Capital. This brings its total funding so far to $2.7 million, including a seed round from Kakao Ventures, the investment arm of the South Korean internet giant. Cochlear.ai will use its Series A on hiring over the next 18 months and to increase the dataset of sounds used to train its deep learning algorithms.

The company was founded in 2017 by a team of six music and audio research scientists, including Han, who completed his PhD in music information retrieval at Seoul National University. While working on his doctorate, Han found “that everyone was really focusing on speech recognition systems. There are so many companies for that, but analyzing other kinds of sounds are technically quite different from speech recognition.”

Speech recognition technology usually recognizes one or two voices at a time, and assumes that people are engaging in a conversation, instead of talking over one another. It also uses linguistic knowledge in post-processing to increase accuracy. But with music or environmental noises, different types of sounds usually overlap.

“We have to take care about all different frequency ranges, and there are not only voices, but really thousands of sounds out there,” Han said. “So we think this will be the next generation of sound recognition, and that was the motivation for our startup.”

Cochlear.ai’s SaaS, called Cochl.Sense, is available as a cloud API and edge SDK, and can currently detect about 40 different sounds, which are grouped into three categories: emergency detection (including glass breaking, screaming and sirens), human interaction (which includes using finger snaps, claps or whistles to interact with hardware) and human status (to identify sounds like coughing, sneezing or snoring for use cases like patient monitoring or automatic audio captioning).

Han said the company also plans to add new functionality to Cochl.Sense for use in homes (including smart speakers), vehicles and music analysis. Cochl.sense’s flexibility means it can potentially fit many use cases, including turning a smart speaker into a “control tower” for home appliances by detecting the noises they make, or helping hearing impaired people by sending alerts about noises, like car horns, to wearable devices including smart watches.

The sound recognition landscape

Han notes that over the past three years or so, there has been a shift from focusing on speech recognition technology to other sounds as well.

For example, more major tech companies, like Amazon, Google and Apple, are adding context-aware sound recognition to their products. For example, both Amazon Alexa Guard and Nest Secure detect the sound of glass breaking, while iOS 14’s sound recognition enabled it to add new accessibility features.

Han said the launches by major tech companies is a boon for Cochlear.ai, because it means that the market for sound recognition technology is growing. The startup plans to work with many different industries, but is currently focused on smart consumer devices and automotive because that is where the most interest for its software is coming from. For example, Cochlear.ai is currently working on a project with Daimler AG to include its sound recognition in cars (for example, alerts if a child is locked inside), in addition to collaborations with major electronic, telecommunications and consumer good companies.

Software that can identify sounds like gunshots, glass breaking and other noises for emergency detection has been around for decades, but conventional technology often resulted in false alarms or required the use of specific microphones and other hardware, Han said.

Other companies dedicated to improving sound recognition technology include Cambridge, England’s Audio Analytica, which focuses on context-based sound intelligence, and Netherlands-based Sound Intelligence, which develops software for emergency alert and healthcare systems.

Cochlear.ai plans to differentiate by building software that can be used with a wide array of microphones, including in low-end smartphones or USB microphones, without needing to be fine-tuned, instead relying on deep learning to refine its algorithms and reduce false positives.

During the early stages of building a dataset for a specific sound, Cochlear.ai’s team records many audio samples by themselves using older smartphone models and USB microphones, to ensure that their software will work even without high-quality microphones.

Other samples are gathered from online sources. Once the sound’s initial learning model reaches a certain level of accuracy, it is then able to search online by itself for more of the same kind of audio clips, exponentially increasing the speed of data training. Cochlear.ai’s Series A will enable it to build datasets of audio samples more quickly, allowing it to add more sounds to its software.

“All of our co-founders are researchers in this field, so signal processing and machine learning techniques–we are trying many different algorithms, because every sound has different characteristics,” said Han. “We have to try many different things to make one single model that can identify all different sounds.”

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Keep That Hotdish Hot With 65% Off a Luncia Casserole Carrier, Only $11 With Promo Code

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Best Home DealsBest Home DealsThe best home, kitchen, smart home, and automotive deals from around the web, updated daily.

Luncia Double-Decker Dish Carrier | $11 | Amazon | Promo code SDDU9S7F

It has been a long time since the days we could safely have a potluck or other gatherings, but we have a fantastic deal perfect for once those times return. These double-decker Luncia dish carriers can be had for 65% off when you add promo code SDDU9S7F at checkout and clip the coupon on the site (it’s just below the price). These holders fit 9″x 13″ sized baking dishes.

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That means you can insulate and keep two dishes of food warm for only $11 instead of $30. What’s more, your Luncia carrier will arrive by Christmas if you order today as a Prime member.

Just add promo code SDDU9S7F and clip the 5% off coupon to bring the price down to $11 for the blue or the grey option.

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Grab this offer while it’s still around!


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Conquer Your Pup’s Dander and Fur With $700 Off a Cobalt or Charcoal Bobsweep PetHair Plus Robot Vacuum

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Best Home DealsBest Home DealsThe best home, kitchen, smart home, and automotive deals from around the web, updated daily.

Bobsweep PetHair Plus Robot Vacuum & Mop (Cobalt) | $200 | Best Buy

Bobsweep PetHair Plus Robot Vacuum & Mop (Charcoal) | $200 | Best Buy

Allergies can be bad enough as the seasons change. Don’t let pet hair and dander add to that by vacuuming it up early and often. That chore is easier said than done— unless you have a robot vacuum to do the work for you. This lovely bright cobalt Bobsweep PetHair Plus robot vacuum and mop, only $200 today at Best Buy seems like an ideal option. That’s a whopping $700 off, by the way.

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You can get the same deal for the charcoal version of the robot vac, too. This model is not only specially made for picking up pet hair, it self docks and charges when it’s finished with the work.

It also comes with a mop attachment, so it can take care of those kitchen floors for you as well. Grab it while it’s still available for this fantastic price!

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Apple will replace AirPods Pro for free with faulty noise cancellation, static or crackling

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Today, exactly one year after Apple first launched the AirPods Pro — and thus the same day the very first AirPods Pro owners will see their one-year warranties expire — Apple has launched a repair program that offers free repairs or replacements for another whole year if your AirPods Pro experience issues with noise cancellation or static.

Specifically, Apple will fix:

Crackling or static sounds that increase in loud environments, with exercise or while talking on the phone

Active Noise Cancellation not working as expected, such as a loss of bass sound, or an increase in background sounds, such as street or airplane noise

Apple says only a “small percentage of AirPods Pro” are affected by the issues, but it apparently wasn’t just an early batch — Apple says affected units were manufactured “before October 2020,” meaning every AirPods Pro ever made might be eligible. That’s quite a recall if so. Apple says it will repair faulty AirPods Pro for two years after you first buy them.

We’ve heard complaints about degraded noise cancellation before, and at least one Verge editor has replaced their AirPods Pro under warranty. It’s nice to hear that Apple isn’t just cutting buyers off as soon as that warranty expires.

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