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Speech recognition giant Nuance planning new office in Central Square, focused on engineering and R&D

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 27, 2013 10:30 AM

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Update: On March 14, Nuance announced that it had leased two full floors at 675 Massachusetts Avenue, a building that also houses Harmonix Music Systems and the new Cambridge location of Workbar. Occupancy is scheduled for the fall.

You might think that a software company based on Route 128 in Burlington would feel it could tap into the Massachusetts talent pool well enough.

But not so for Nuance, the speech recognition giant that enables laptops, cars, and Apple's Siri personal assistant to listen attentively and understand what you want to do. The company has just leased 28,000 square feet of space in Cambridge's Central Square for a new engineering office that will house about 175 people. It should be open by the fall.

"There's a great population of candidates that just want to be in Cambridge," says Nuance chief marketing officer Peter Mahoney. "It just opens up more opportunities for us — people who are city-dwellers, many of whom don't own cars."

Nuance acquired Vlingo, a startup based in Harvard Square, in late 2011. Vlingo had about 100 employees at the time, and those who have remained at Nuance will eventually move to the new Central Square space. (Former Vlingo CEO Dave Grannan and CTO Mike Phillips have left.) "The goal was to get much nicer space than Vlingo had in Harvard Square," Mahoney said.

Employees at the new office will either report in to Mike Thompson, general manager of Nuance's mobile division, which focuses on phones, TVs, and cars, or chief technology officer Vlad Sejnoha.

"The biggest area for the new office is going to be in our mobile business, but we'll also have people focusing on research into natural language understanding and artificial intelligence," Mahoney says.

There seems to be quite a surge of speech-related activity in Cambridge these days. I wrote last month about Amazon's Kendall Square offices, where executive Bill Barton is "leading development of speech and language solutions which will enhance user interactions with Amazon products and services.” And in January, Microsoft hired TJ Hazen to build a speech team at its Kendall Square outpost.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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