Article by Rosemary Hynes
It’s all go in the interpreting industry right now, from funding, to innovation, to acquisitions — and it takes a lot to keep up. If you’re finding it hard to follow all the ins and outs, we’ve got you covered. In this article we’ll analyze the latest happenings, so sit back, relax, and prepare to take it all in.
Conference interpreting is considered a pretty small segment within the overall interpreting market, which makes remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) — born out of this segment — even more niche. That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic, when RSI forced itself into the mainstream out of sheer necessity. Some of the pioneers in this space predate the pandemic, of course, but since 2020 we’ve seen RSI platforms sprouting up seemingly everywhere. To illustrate: in our Language Technology Atlas (which will be updated in June 2022) we listed 20 RSI tools in 2020, 34 in 2021, and at least another seven have been identified since the start of 2022. That’s more than a 50 percent increase over two years! Each new tool aims to bring something new to the table, to fill a shortcoming, or to respond to user feedback. Let’s take a look at one such example: the virtual booth.
The term ‘virtual booth’ is currently being used to describe the new technology on the block that enables interpreters in a virtual meeting to see and speak to each other without being heard or seen by the meeting attendees, just like in a physical interpreting booth. Green Terp and cAPPisco have both developed such technology. Just like with a physical soundproof booth in an onsite meeting, these platforms function alongside the original meeting taking place on a video conferencing platform. The main differentiator as compared to traditional RSI platforms is that virtual booths do not integrate with video conferencing platforms but run in parallel. In this scenario, interpreters join the regular meeting on the video conferencing platform together with the speakers and attendees so they can access the audio and video feeds directly. From there, the interpreters listen to the speeches and deliver the interpretation on the original platform. However, the interpreters’ rendition is also being transmitted into the virtual booth tool alongside the original meeting, so that the interpreters can listen to each other’s interpretation. This also allows the interpreters to take relay from one another (i.e. when an interpreter interprets from a colleague’s output rather than from the original speaker, in a case where the interpreter doesn’t work with the current speaker’s language).
The crux of the matter, and where the virtual booth differs from traditional RSI platforms, is that no audio or video from the original meeting is injected into the virtual booth, only the interpreters’ own output. The process of injecting the original meeting audio into an RSI platform has been known to degrade sound or add artifacts. Therefore, because the interpreters are in the same meeting as the participants and their audio is fed directly into the meeting, using a virtual booth may reduce the risk of sound degradation in the injection process. Secondly, as the original audio is not fed into the virtual booth, the risk of copyright and privacy issues is minimized. This type of technology should be closely watched as it can potentially work with any video conferencing platform, virtual event organizer or streaming platform, making it quite versatile.
It doesn’t really come as a surprise that, with the explosion of virtual interpreting technologies and innovation, investors' heads are turning, and we’ve seen an influx in investment in virtual interpreting technology (VIT) over the past few years.
Boostlingo is an interpreting delivery and management platform that offers on-demand video remote interpreting (VRI) and over-the-phone interpreting (OPI). It received USD 3.4 million in a Series A funding round in 2018 and then received a growth equity investment from Mainsail Partners in August 2021. However, the size of the investment was not disclosed. Cloudbreak-Martti (now part of Uphealth, which provides consecutive interpreting in the healthcare sector) is another OPI/VRI tech provider that received a USD 35 million investment in 2020. Tech providers from the RSI scene have also caught investors’ attention. RSI platforms Interprefy, Qua Qua, KUDO and Interactio have all received investment over the past three years.
The most recent recipient of investment is Jeenie. The US-based, female-run virtual interpreting platform raised USD 9.3 million in a Series A funding round on March 31, 2022. The company specializes in healthcare interpreting and also facilitates other use-cases through its VRI application, such as virtual meetings in the areas of legal and education.
What these developments show us is that the lucrative healthcare sector in the United States is increasingly seeking out virtual interpreting solutions and that investors have identified it as an area for growth. The acquisition of Stratus Video (an LSP with proprietary VRI technology) by AMN Healthcare (a healthcare staffing company) corroborates the trend. In addition to investments and acquisitions, interpreting technology providers in this space have also been reporting an increasing number of requests for integrations of interpreting services with telehealth platforms.
You can read about investment in remote interpreting in this Nimdzi article. The following graph depicts the investment in VIT since 2018.
In a first of its kind acquisition, Boostlingo announced on March 23, 2022, that it has partnered with Interpreter Intelligence (an interpreter management and scheduling platform) and VoiceBoxer (an RSI platform). The acquisition of an RSI platform by an IMS/OPI/VRI company demonstrates the popularity of RSI. As an increasing number of clients (some of whom had never used any kind of interpreting services before) are looking for RSI solutions, tech and service providers from other parts of the interpreting market have realized that it’s time to get a piece of the RSI pie.
In the past, RSI moved in its own circle far removed from VRI, OPI and other areas of interpreting. This is because RSI typically comes with a very different client base, born out of the conferencing sector. Now, however, we can see those circles starting to overlap and new frontiers are on the horizon. Tech providers in the interpreting world are asking themselves ‘Should we invest in developing new software ourselves or buy a competitor who is already an expert in this area?’. The acquisition of VoiceBoxer by Boostlingo, therefore, is a smart move and will help the company stay competitive at a time when RSI is branching out from the niche into the mainstream.
The acquisition is also a first example of how RSI is gradually being considered a standard interpreting service, needed to complete the full package on offer.
But let’s not forget about the second announcement because, by acquiring Interpreter Intelligence, Boostlingo has bought its main competitor. Interpreter Intelligence had gained a solid reputation as an IMS provider and had also added its own OPI and VRI solutions. The decision to partner marks another defining moment for the VIT industry, as it’s the first time that one VIT provider has bought another.
The interpreting technology domain can be summarized by these two words: investment and innovation. It’s no surprise, therefore, that interpreting is currently a hot topic. But this is just the beginning, as the industry matures, be prepared to feel the heat…
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