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January 5, 2015 at 3:46 PM

CES: VoiceBox talks up future

LAS VEGAS — The big announcement VoiceBox Technologies was hoping to make with a mobile company wasn’t ready in time for the Consumer Electronics Show.

But the Bellevue company still expects to have a huge week at this year’s gadget expo, showing off its voice-interface software to all sorts of companies that are in town and looking for ways to add hands-free control to their devices.

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VoiceBox has been developing voice-interface software since 2001 and came out a few years later with a device similar to Amazon’s voice-controlled Echo speaker and search appliance.

Its prototype never went into production, but the demo caught the eye of Toyota in 2005, which has since worked with VoiceBox to add voice controls to its cars.

VoiceBox steered its business toward automotive customers, joining the cluster of telematics businesses building dashboard software in the shadow of Microsoft.

Digified cars have become a major theme at CES. This year automakers such as Audi, Ford and Mercedes-Benz are using the event to showcase how technology is making their cars safer, more entertaining for passengers and more connected to online services.

That trend has helped VoiceBox increase sales about 80 percent a year over the past three years and increase its headcount from 60 to 300 people, according to Victor Melfi Jr., the company’s chief strategy officer. (He’s pictured above giving a demo in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center.)

But now the company is returning to its roots, in a way, and taking the software it has been refining for automotive use to other platforms, such as consumer gadgets for the home and “Internet of Things” devices and services.

VoiceBox faces the huge competitors. Both Apple and Google have popular voice platforms that they’re pushing, particularly toward carmakers.

Melfi said VoiceBox will do fine. Some companies prefer a ‘white label’ solution like VoiceBox because they are leery of using the giants’ voice software and giving them access to valuable information about customers.

“We’re finding the business model advantage really resonates,” he said.

VoiceBox doesn’t have a booth and won’t make a splash on the floor at CES this year, but the company has a packed schedule of meetings adjacent to the conference. It’s also providing rolling demos, using a Samsung Galaxy phone inside a rented Ford Expedition.

Melfi said it’s meeting with home-device makers, network providers working on the “Internet of Things” and automotive companies.

Because current customers are in town for CES, VoiceBox will also meet with them to plan the next generation of its product.

That big announcement with a mobile partner will just have to wait for the Mobile World Congress conference in March.

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