Lelapa AI, a newly-opened artificial intelligence (AI) research and product lab, is set to launch its first natural language model solution, Vulavula, within the next two months. The South African start-up aims to build AI-based customer-facing products and services that solve uniquely African problems. Vulavula is a language technology-as-a-service, focusing on under-represented languages, specifically South African languages, through text and voice technologies.
Lelapa AI was founded by a team with backgrounds in academics, research, data science, and engineering, with a focus on addressing how AI can be used for solutions and applications from an African lens. The team hopes to make a change in the country, using AI to improve sectors such as agriculture, education, healthcare, and energy. The lab’s products are primarily focused on the business-to-business market, where companies have to communicate with their customers on a regular basis, mainly through text or voice.
Vulavula’s primary features or capabilities include named entity recognition, speech-to-text or text-to-speech, and machine translation. According to Pelonomi Moiloa, co-founder and CEO of Lelapa AI, despite 90% of the internet being in English, only one in 10 South Africans speak English at home. Languages represent culture and people, and it’s imperative that people from across the world are supported by technology.
The team at Lelapa AI hopes to contribute to understanding how to better adapt technologies that exist to local context and local languages so that machines are able to better understand people and facilitate them communicating in their languages through certain tools. The co-founder indicates the AI lab’s products are focused on the business-to-business market, as these companies have to communicate with their customers on a regular basis, mainly through text or voice.
By adding more African languages, the AI lab hopes to create access for people to be spoken to in their own languages and speak in their own languages. While the lab aims to expand its product offerings into other fields, right now, the focus is on language and that product is Vulavula. Lelapa AI aims to be the home of AI talent on the African continent, contributing to the development of research fields which understand African languages from a contemporary machine methodology.