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Facebook to acquire Pittsburgh-based Mobile Technologies

| Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, 12:48 p.m.

Social media giant Facebook will buy a Pittsburgh-based language technology company founded by a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist, the companies announced on their websites Tuesday.

The acquisition of Mobile Technologies and its Jibbigo speech translation app by the world's most popular social-networking site adds to a list of CMU-related tech startups that have gained international exposure or financing in the past few years.

“It says good things. It says if you want to start a company in this general field, Pittsburgh is the place to do it,” said Jaime Carbonell, director of the Language Technologies Institute at CMU and a colleague of Mobile Technologies founder Alex Waibel. “The people are here, and the technology is here.”

Waibel, a professor at CMU and the University of Karlsruhe in Germany, was out of the country and could not be reached.

“We look forward to continuing to develop our technology at Facebook and finding new and interesting ways to apply it to Facebook's long-term product roadmap,” Mobile Technologies said in a statement posted at jibbigo.com.

It said the company's unspecified number of employees would move to Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

Waibel has labs in Pittsburgh, Germany, Hong Kong and Silicon Valley.

Waibel's company, founded in 2001, will help Facebook improve products as voice technology becomes an increasingly important way for people to navigate the Web, Tom Stocky, a product-management director at Facebook, said on the company's website.

“Although more than a billion people around the world already use Facebook every month, we are always looking for ways to help connect the rest of the world as well,” Stocky wrote. “This acquisition is an investment in our long-term product road map as we continue toward our company's mission.”

Neither company disclosed terms of the deal.

Waibel developed Jibbigo and introduced it in 2009. It stands for “gibberish of language on the go.” The app used technology perfected at Carnegie Mellon's Silicon Valley campus.

Its latest iPhone translator app allows someone to speak one of more than 20 languages into the phone and get a translation in the language of choice.

Several websites that rate mobile apps gave Jibbigo high marks in recent years as it gained popularity among students and travelers.

The app's Pittsburgh connection helps CMU cultivate more talent and build on what has become a prime platform for computer science and language technology, Carbonell said.

“There is this huge cloud of spinoff companies now and they are successful, with a rate of about 75 percent,” he said.

They include the Recaptcha technology that CMU professor Luis von Ahn developed and Google bought three years ago; Lycos, an early search engine that patented technology used today; and the Vivisimo data company that IBM acquired last year.

Staff writer Alex Nixon and Bloomberg News contributed. David Conti is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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