AI Sign Language Firm Signapse Raises USD 2.4M in Seed Funding

Signapse Raises USD 2.4m in Seed Funding

Signapse AI, a UK-based generative AI sign language translation startup, announced on May 9, 2024, that it had completed a seed funding round of approximately USD 2.4m on April 5, 2024.

Investors include Deeptech Seed Fund, Soulmates Ventures, the Royal Association for Deaf people, Empirical Ventures, CEAS Investments, and The FSE Group, accounting for about USD 1.8m of the seed money. The company, which will also receive USD 623k from Innovate UK (the UK government’s Research and Innovation agency) was founded in February 2022.

Deeptech Seed Fund had also provided pre-seed funds back in 2022. Pearse Coyle, Founder and Partner at Deeptech Seed Fund and Chair of the Board at Signapse, said about this new round for the interpreting AI company that they were “very proud to have backed the Signapse team since the spinout stage and really pleased that their great progress has allowed us to co-lead this round.”

Also in the year of its founding, the University of Surrey contributed funds and gave Signapse’s Co-Founder and CTO Ben Saunders the Innovator of the Year Award. 

With the company reaching a current valuation of USD 6.6m, CEO and Co-Founder Sally Chalk, formerly of sign language interpreting company Clarion UK, called the funding round “a landmark opportunity, a once in a lifetime moment, to build a transformative product.”

At the time of this seed funding round, the founders own 51% of the company, and investors own 34% (other than the University of Surrey, which owns 5%). The company also offers employees options from a pool accounting for 10% of shares. 

“BSL is a separate language to English with varying grammar and syntax, meaning that a full sentence translation is required.” — Ben Saunders, Co-Founder and CTO, Signapse

Signapse intends to use the funds to improve deaf accessibility through sign language translation using AI, including better accessibility for video translation, translation from English into British Sign Language (BSL), and AI-generated Sign Language Videos.

AI-Enabled Accessibility in Mass Transportation 

Signapse, according to the company’s website, has been using Generative AI since its beginnings to create automatic sign language announcements at train stations, airports, and other settings. These announcements are available in BSL and ASL to provide accessibility to deaf passengers.

The way the technology works, explained Signapse’s CTO Ben Saunders, is by automatically generating sign language videos from English sentences. 

AI is used to generate the final sign language translation video and “all output sign language videos are photo-realistic, meaning they look like a real human translator,” said Saunders, adding that sections of sign language video are mixed in new combinations to build unique translations, in a similar way to text-to-speech (TTS) technology.

Signapse hosts regular deaf user groups to get feedback on the AI technology and has multiple deaf staff, including in the AI team, who constantly review and test the technology, explained Saunders. He also told Slator that Signapse is currently expanding its technology to more open-ended translations, where the input could be any English sentence, not just from the transportation domain.

For websites and video translation, the company currently uses human translators to create the sign language translations, said Saunders, adding that the expectation is to incorporate AI in the creation of BSL messages for those markets as well. However, it is also expected that this will be a much harder task, given the nature of non-domain-specific language.

“BSL is a separate language to English with varying grammar and syntax, meaning that a full sentence translation is required. There are many different signs in BSL and they can be used in different orders, which complicates the task,” commented Saunders.