KBC Bank & Insurance will invest up to $100 million in the venture. The parties supported amongst others by KBC Securities intend to obtain the balance of the funding for the venture from strategic partners and other investors.
Under the arrangement, L&H plans to become a prime partner by licensing its technology for use in up to 3 million Internet appliances for distribution to Belgian homes. The parties plan for the joint venture to derive revenues principally from the sales of e-commerce services and advertising.
The appliances will feature capabilities derived from L&H's Project NAK handheld
device, but will also include a larger color screen to maximize the user experience. These appliances are being developed to enable users to easily send and receive e-mail, surf the Web and conduct e-commerce transactions using mainly a voice user interface.
KBC Bank & Insurance and L&H are planning to make this service available 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 easy, one-step 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 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," said Remi Vermeiren, Chairman of KBC Bank & Insurance.
"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," said Jo Lernout, L&H Co-Chairman and Co-Founder.
About KBC Bank & Insurance
KBC Bank & Insurance is the second-largest Belgian financial services group, formed through a merger in 1998, active in more than 30 countries and with over 30,000 staff worldwide.
About KBC Securities
KBC Securities, a wholly owned subsidiary of KBC Bank, is Belgium's largest stockbroker and major investment bank. KBC Securities currently counts more than 250 employees in its offices in Brussels, Antwerp, Paris and Amsterdam.
About Lernout & Hauspie
Lernout & Hauspie (L&H) is a global leader in advanced speech and language solutions for vertical markets, computers, automobiles, telecommunications, embedded products, consumer goods and the Internet.
The company provides customized solutions for corporations; core speech technologies marketed to OEMs; end user and retail applications for continuous speech products in horizontal and vertical markets; and document creation, human and machine translation services, Internet translation offerings, and linguistic tools.
L&H's products and services originate in four basic areas: automatic speech recognition (ASR), text-to-speech (TTS), digital speech and music compression (SMC) and text-to-text (translation).