Nuance acquires VirtuOz, potentially lending a voice to online virtual agents

The Nuance Communications(s nuan) acquisition engine is revving up once again. Nuance has bought Franco-American virtual assistant developer VirtuOz, sources close to Nuance told GigaOM Thursday. The deal would strengthen Nuance’s enterprise business, adding a key web component to its mobile virtual customer support service rep Nina.
The deal, which was first reported by TechCrunch, has closed, our sources told us, but they would not disclose a sale price. More details should emerge in the coming weeks as Nuance prepares to make an official announcement.
CEO Alexandre Lebrun founded VirtuOz in 2002 in Paris, where it raised its initial funding from French VC Galileo Partners, but later relocated to the Bay Area. The company designs the increasingly common virtual agents that appear on companies’ websites to aid in marketing, sales and customer service support. To date, VirtuOz has raised about $20.4 million, and its investors include Mohr Davidow and Inventures Group as well as Galileo.
Nuance’s own virtual agent Nina is designed for mobile apps. Making heavy use of Nuance’s speech recognition and natural language understanding technology, Nina is designed to help customers perform what would usually be complex tasks with a single voice command. For instance, instead of going through multiple steps to make a $200 transfer from a checking account to a savings account, Nina can perform the task with a single voice prompt.
VirtuOz Michelin ManThat makes the companies a good fit. VirtuOz has already built up a stable of customers including Symantec, Nestlé’s gourmet coffee business Espresso, French telco SFR and Michelin (yes, VirtuOz has created a virtual Michelin Man). According to its website its virtual agents engaged in 166 million customer conversations in 2012.
Meanwhile, Nuance has been trying to bring its speech technologies to the PC, striking deals with Intel(s intc) to put its virtual assistant into ultrabooks as well as promoting its traditional PC products like Dragon Dictation. This deal, however, would allow Nuance to give a “voice” to enterprise’s online customer support and sales.