By Kristy Dorsey

Scotland’s newest spin-out from Heriot-Watt University is looking to raise seed funding of £1 million as it predicts strong demand for its AI “talking” technology in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Alana AI was officially incorporated last week to bring to market software developed by its academic co-founders Verena Rieser and Oliver Lemon. Their conversational technology has been designed to handle long human interactions where users want to access large amounts of information in an efficient way.

The newly-launched company is already working with clients in education, healthcare and finance to tailor the technology to the specific needs of these sectors. However, it is predicting ever-increasing demand as touch-free devices become more popular post Covid-19.

The firm currently employs eight people, and plans to hire an operations director and additional developers this year as it moves into the commercialisation phase. The management team is in discussions with potential private and institutional investors and is “confident” of hitting their £1m funding target by the end of this month, having already secured £570,000.

Ms Rieser, director of the university’s Natural Language Processing Lab, said Alana can manage conversations during long interactions, and learn about the user’s interests. In turn, this allows the technology to suggest new and relevant subject matter.

“Alana is different from the voice-activated assistants on the market today, such as Alexa and Siri, as the software enables long, extended conversations over many turns,” she said.

Based at the university’s new £19m Global Research, Innovation and Discovery (GRID) facility, Alana AI continues to be supported by the Enterprise team at Heriot-Watt.

The university currently owns 15% of the equity, with the rest of the shareholding split among the management team.