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Affectiva raises $5.7M to sense and measure emotion

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Affectiva, a Massachusetts start-up spun out of the MIT Media Lab, has nabbed $5.7 million in Series B funding to help it pursue technology which helps recognize and measure human emotions. The new financing was led by Kantar, the consumer insights group for marketing firm WPP (s WPPGY) and Myrian Capital.

The money will go toward advancing work on Affectiva’s two products, which get at the issue of understanding and gauging human emotions from different directions. Affectiva is working on a technology called Affdex, a piece of software that uses webcams to recognize interest, liking and attention from users. The system uses machine learning and computer vision to understand non-verbal responses and check them against one of the largest databases of facial expressions.

The system can be used to help media companies get quick feedback and consumer reaction or it can help advertisers understand how effective a commercial is. A researcher could quickly narrow down to specific points in a video when users were most engaged or experienced some extreme emotions. Affdex’s cloud-based architecture allows it to scale easily, which democratizes this process and allows many companies to engage in the kind of market research that previously only larger firms could pursue. Affectiva is applying Affdex to media measurement first and is partnering to WPP to integrate Affdex into WPP’s other research tools.

Dave Berman, CEO of Affectiva, told me companies have gone from measuring presence and location and are now looking to understand how people are feeling. He said when done in the right way, with clear opt-in and transparency, people like to share their feelings. He said while Affdex is initially being used as a marketing tool, he sees a bright future in social networking and online gaming.

“Imagine playing video poker with an avatar that can read your face and tell if you’re bluffing,” he said. “The next big wave is interaction with social networking. Think about a social network that knew you liked something based on your face or physiological signals without you having to push a “like” button.”

Affectiva is also pursuing a biometric wrist monitor called Q Sensor that measures electrodermal activity, sometimes known as galvanic skin response, to understand how people are feeling. When combined with other sensors that measure motion and temperature, the Q Sensor can paint a pretty good picture of how relaxed, excited, calm or stressed people are. More than 100 universities and corporations are currently using the sensors to measure anxiety and engagement.

Affectiva, which has about 20 employees, previously raised $2 million in funding from its founders and the Peder Sager Wallenberg Charitable Trust, represented by Lingfield AB. And the company won a $650,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for its work. Berman said the company has a bunch of unannounced projects on the way. If they’re as innovative as what Affectiva is showing now, it’ll be interesting to see how long before someone comes along and tries to buy the company.