Boosting innovation in the ICT industry

A multinational company collaborates with Mitacs Accelerate interns from McGill to upgrade its products

To meet its clients’ needs and an increasing demand for high-performance Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) solutions, Nuance established a long-term research project that focuses on refining these products for mobile applications.

Nuance approached Professor Richard Rose from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at McGill University to collaborate with him on its research project. Dr. Rose connected with Jesse Vincent-Herscovici, Business Development Director at Mitacs, who helped him prepare a Mitacs Accelerate internship cluster application for Nuance. A  Mitacs Accelerate cluster internship is designed for long-term research projects involving multiple graduate student interns over longer periods of time.

Three McGill students, Aanchan Mohan, Vikrant Tomar and Marc-Antoine Rondeau, have already collaborated with the company on the first phase of their Mitacs Accelerate project in its Montréal office. Their research related to the use of Neural Networks in speech recognition technologies for mobile applications. The interns each worked on different aspects of the project, such as examining Neural Networks’ performance in training robust speech models; adapting applications to the users’ voice in dictation; and Natural Language Understanding.

As Vikrant explains, background noise is a nuisance in most speech recognition applications that use traditional Neural Networks models as it causes inaccurate transcriptions. “The objective of my research was to explore Neural Networks’ capacities to train noise robust speech models to recognize the background noise and ignore it. We saw improvement and the results can be applied to the company’s speech recognition products.” Marc-Antoine explored the Natural Language Understanding process whereby he combined Neural Networks with a tagging model called Conditional Random Field (CRF) to improve the tagging accuracy.

For Yun Tang, Shou-Chun Yin and Yi Su, supervisors at Nuance, the Mitacs Accelerate cluster internship was successful for both the company and the three interns. Mr. Tang confirms that the research outcomes have improved Nuance’s technology. “The interns’ work helped us make research progress. Furthermore, Aanchan helped us develop and implement an algorithm that adapts applications to the users’ voice and this works well in our systems. This new technique will soon be published in a research paper.”

Aanchan, Vikrant and Marc-Antoine highly recommend this program for its exposure to industrial research challenges and the chance for professional development. “Mitacs Accelerate Quebec gave us the opportunity to collaborate with Nuance Communications. This is probably something we wouldn’t have gotten if we had applied directly to the company,” explains Aanchan.

“We had the chance to work with a large number of people and therefore had access to different resources and expertise,” adds Marc-Antoine.

Vikrant sums up this internship as being a good learning experience for all. “This internship gave us a good insight into our future careers. At Nuance, we used new tools and techniques that were developed internally. This enhanced our experience and gave us a chance to see how big corporations work. The ability to collaborate with a big team also enabled us to consult our colleagues if we had questions. This made problem solving much easier than working alone in the lab.”

The three students are currently working on the second phase of this cluster research project as they pursue their PhD studies at McGill. Nuance Communications plans to collaborate with researchers through Mitacs Accelerate in the future.

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Saskatchewan, and Research Manitoba.

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