Datch secures $10M to build voice assistants to factory floors

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Datch, a company that develops AI-powered voice assistants for industrial customers, today announced that it raised $10 million in a Series A round led by Blackhorn Ventures. The proceeds will be used to expand operations, CEO Mark Fosdike said, as well as develop new software support, tools and capabilities.

Datch started when Fosdike, who has a background in aerospace engineering, met two former Siemens engineers — Aric Thorn and Ben Purcell. They came to the collective realization that voice products built for business customers have to overcome business-specific challenges, like understanding jargon, acronyms and syntax unique to particular customers.

“The way we extract information from systems changes every year, but the way we input information — especially in the industrial world — hasn’t changed since the invention of the keyboard and database,” Fosdike said. “The industrial world had been left in the dark for years, and we knew that developing a technology with voice-visual AI would help light the way for these factories.”

The voice assistants that Datch builds leverage AI to collect and structure data from users in a factory or in the field, parsing commands like “Report an issue for the Line 1 Spot Welder. I estimate it will take half a day to fix.” They run on a smartphone and link to existing systems to write and read records, including records from enterprise resource and asset management platforms.

Datch’s assistants provide a timeline of events and can capture data without an internet connection; they auto-sync once back online. Using them, workers can fill out company forms, create and update work orders, assign tasks and search through company records all via voice.

Fosdike didn’t go into detail about how Datch treats the voice data, save that it encrypts data both in-transit and at rest and performs daily backups.

“We have to employ a lot of tight, automated feedback loops to train the voice and [language] data, and so everyone’s interaction with Datch is slightly different, depending on the company and team they work within,” Fosdike explained. “Customers are exploring different use cases such as using the [language] data in predictive maintenance, automated classification of cause codes, and using the voice data to predict worker fatigue before it becomes a critical safety risk.”

That last bit about predicting worker fatigue is a little suspect. The idea that conditions like tiredness can be detected in a person’s voice isn’t a new one, but some researchers believe it’s unlikely AI can flag them with 100% accuracy. After all, people express tiredness in different ways, depending not only on the workplace environment but on their sex and cultural, ethnic and demographic backgrounds.

The tiredness-detecting scenario aside, Fosdike asserts that Datch’s technology is helping industrial clients get ahead of turbulence in the economy by “vastly improving” the efficiency of their operations. Frontline staff typically have to work with reporting tools that aren’t intuitive, he notes, and in many cases, voice makes for a less cumbersome, faster alternative form of input.

“We help frontline workers with productivity and solve the pain point of time wasted on their reports by decreasing the process time,” Fosdike said. “Industrial companies are fast realizing that to keep up with demand or position themselves to withstand a global pandemic, they need to find a way to scale with more than just peoplepower. Our AI offers these companies an efficient solution in a fraction of the time and with less overhead needed.”

Datch competes with Rain, Aiqudo and Onvego, all of which are developing voice technologies for industrial customers. Deloitte’s Maxwell, Genba and Athena are rivals in Fosdike’s eyes, as as well. But business remains steady — Datch counts ConEd, Singapore Airlines, ABB Robotics and the New York Power Authority among its clients.

“We raised this latest round earlier than expected due to the influx of demand from the market. The timing is right to capitalize on both the post-COVID boom in digital transformation as well as corporate investments driven by the infrastructure bill,” Fosdike said, referring to the $1 trillion package U.S. lawmakers passed last November. “Currently we have a team of 20, and plan to use the funds to grow to 55 to 60 people, scaling to roughly 40 by the end of the year.”

To date, Datch has raised $15 million in venture capital.

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