KBC Bank to distribute voice-powered Internet devices to customers

KBC Bank to distribute voice-powered Internet devices to customers

Voice technology specialist Lernout & Hauspie (www.lhsl.com) is teaming with Belgium's KBC Bank & Insurance (www.kbc.be) to jointly develop, launch and distribute a hand-held Internet appliance for voice-powered home banking and e-commerce services. KBC Bank & Insurance is to invest up to $100 million in the venture.

Under the arrangement, L&H will license its technology for use in up to 3 million Internet appliances which KBC will distribute to Belgian homes. The parties plan to derive revenues from the sale of e-commerce services and advertising.

The appliances will feature capabilities derived from an L&H handheld prototype dubbed Project NAK, but will also include a larger colour screen for ease of viewing and navigation. The appliances are being developed to enable KBC bank customers to easily send and receive e-mail, surf the Web and conduct e-commerce transactions using mainly a voice user interface.

The service is specifically intended for two groups of users, those without PCs and those who desire an easier-to-use interface for their e-mail and Internet needs. The first devices will be ready for distribution in the first part of next year.

The device, which is intended to be wireless depending on the availability of GPRS, will give users a speech-enabled, touch-screen LCD that provides one-stop access to services such as e-mail, international e-commerce, home banking, local or global weather, news, yellow and white pages, traffic and entertainment information. The client server solution will feature the L&H speaker independent speech recognition engine, RealSpeak, and other technologies such as text-to-speech, machine translation, intelligent agents, natural language understanding and spontaneous spoken command and control.

"We consider this opportunity a very sound investment in home banking and other e-banking and insurance services," says Remi Vermeiren, chairman of KBC Bank & Insurance. "The fast growth of the Internet is opening up a number of opportunities for the banking and insurance sector, leading to greater efficiency, a reduction in costs and an increase in service, via e-business and e-banking in particular. Easy Internet access and communication is, however, a pre-condition for the use of Internet service by the public at large. We are therefore pleased with this initiative which will offer this capability."

"This `Seeing, Touching and Talking' concept should provide a much more natural and universal way to access information for users without PC's and for those who do not have the time or inclination to key in text and search the Web," says Jo Lernout, L&H co-chairman and co-founder. "This capability will be combined with our Intelligent Content Management technology, providing a `personal intelligent agent' to find relevant information and summarize and translate that information. The services will be referred to as `The Society of Intelligent Agents'. Users will call upon these intelligent agents to experience the unmatched ease of use."

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