Technology is an ever-increasing part of our lives; it’s how we communicate, find our way, learn and play. Now, a handful of startups are poised to add a new feature to what our smartphones can do—read human emotion.
One of these is MIT Media Lab spinout Affectiva, currently based in Waltham, which has built an emotion-aware AI platform. Gabi Zijderveld, Affectiva’s Vice President of Marketing and Product Strategy, believes that building technology that can recognize emotion will improve the way that we relate both to our devices and one another. “It not only affects how we as people interact with tech . . . it affects how we interact with each other,” she says.
Affectiva’s AI uses an optical sensor— such as a webcam—to “read” the emotions on people’s faces for a wide range of purposes; it can help teach humans how to better read emotion, help doctors more accurately gauge pain in a patient, or even improve the experience of gamers by helping designers determine what parts of the game players most enjoy.
Zijderveld believes that one day this software will be ubiquitous, much like a GPS on a phone. As the company builds up its resources, they plan to license their software out to companies in different industries, who may use it to create new and innovative technology.
Zijderveld says that the medical field is finding many uses for Affectiva’s software. “Our tech got started around helping people on the autism spectrum,” Zijderveld says, noting that people with autism often have trouble reading emotions. But she also says there’s a use for the technology in telemedicine, where doctors communicate with patients primarily via video conference, instead of in person, as well as in the future of treating mental illnesses.
“You can measure your heart rate and your blood pressure and other things around physical fitness, but there’s very little you can quantify and measure around emotional fitness,” says Zijderveld. “What if there was a mood meter in [telemedicine]? If patients can gather data over time on their emotional mood and wellbeing. They can create and emotional profile and create their own baseline. A doctor would maybe get an alert or a notification that a given patient is deviating from their own norm.”
Zijderveld also says that pharmaceutical companies have found a use for the technology as a new way to measure patient pain. Instead of old systems, where patients put their pain on a scale of one to ten, Affectiva can help doctors quantify how much pain the patient is in, and subsequently determine correct doses of pain medication.
Having just raised an additional $14 million in growth capital, Affectiva is looking to hire more people to accelerate their product and strategies. They’re also always looking for more people to work with. Zijerveld says that Affectiva’s way of breaking out into the field is through larger companies who want to use their software to delve deep into a topic of research.
Casey Nugent is an editorial intern for MedTech Boston. She’s currently working on her BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College in Boston. Outside of working at MedTech Boston, Casey enjoys drinking coffee, going to the theater, goofing around with friends, and hanging out with dogs.
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