January 5, 2015 / 10:49 PM / in 3 years

Facebook acquires voice recognition firm

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc FB.O acquired a company that makes voice recognition technology for wearable devices and Internet- connected appliances, the latest sign of its ambition to extend its reach beyond computers and smartphones.

People are silhouetted as they pose with laptops in front of a screen projected with a Facebook logo, in this picture illustration taken in Zenica October 29, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Files

Facebook said it acquired wit.ai on Monday, without providing a price for the deal. The 18-month old company, based in Palo Alto, California, makes software that can understand spoken words as well as written text phrased in “natural language.”

A Facebook representative declined to provide details on how Facebook planned to use the technology or with which group within Facebook the wit.ai team would work.

The deal comes as technology companies are racing to bring Internet connectivity to a new crop of devices, from watches to washing machines. Voice recognition, the technology that helps power services such as Apple Inc’s AAPL.O Siri, is considered a key building block for the new devices to earn mainstream consumer appeal.

Facebook, the world’s largest Internet social network, with 1.3 billion users, is increasingly looking beyond the PCs, tablets and smartphones currently used to access its service. In March, it acquired virtual reality headset maker Oculus VR for $2 billion.

The deal for wit.ai is likely to have been significantly smaller. Wit.ai announced in October that it had raised $3 million in a funding round led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Dan Grebler

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