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Affectiva emotion AI vendor latest in AI acquisition wave

Amid a surging market for AI technology, Smart Eye, a vendor of AI-based eye tracking and driver tracking systems, acquires a vendor of emotion-sensing AI software.

Amid a supercharged market for AI technology, eye tracking vendor Smart Eye acquired Affectiva, vendor of emotion-sensing AI technology, for $73.5 million.

The deal between Smart Eye, based in Gothenburg, Sweden, and Boston-based Affectiva was made public May 25. It creates a combined AI company that will focus on the fast-growing market for automotive interior sensing, as well on media analytics and human factors research.

Broader enterprise applications

Computer vision AI technology will likely have broader applications in enterprises down the line, one analyst said.

"Computer vision technology powered by AI is powerful enough to detect emotion in faces just like humans. In fact, it could be more accurate because it can be trained on multiple data sets versus a single human experience," said Mike Gualtieri, a Forrester Research analyst, who noted that vehicles equipped with this technology will prevent many accidents, though some drivers might have privacy concerns.

But those concerns may be offset by the expanded safety use this technology could deliver to enterprises and their employees, he added.

"This same technology could ultimately be used by enterprises to prevent accidents and improve productivity for employees operating heavy machinery, monitoring processes, and any other situation where a human is operating or monitoring equipment and processes," Gualtieri said.

Founded in 1999, Smart Eye develops AI-based eye tracking technology that closely studies movement of the eye, face and head to draw conclusions about a person's awareness and mental state.

This same technology could ultimately be used by enterprises to prevent accidents and improve productivity for employees operating heavy machinery, monitoring processes, and any other situation where a human is operating or monitoring equipment and processes.
Mike GualtieriAnalyst, Forrester Research

Smart Eye's eye tracking systems are used in cars and commercial vehicles and the aerospace and aviation industries, among others. The vendor said its technologies are used by more than 800 partners and customers around the world, including NASA, BMW, Lockheed Martin, Volvo and GM.

Computer vision

Forrester, which predicts the overall AI market will grow to $37 billion by 2025, categorizes computer vision tools such as those from Smart Eye and Affectiva as "AI facilitators" for custom AI systems.

Affectiva, an MIT spinoff founded in 2009, was among the first software vendors in the emotion AI and human perception AI categories. Its technology uses deep learning, computer vision, speech science and big data to detect human emotions and cognitive states.

Affectiva's interior sensing AI technology is used by car manufacturers, fleet managers and ride-share vendors.

Other recent major AI deals include Microsoft's acquisition of voice recognition vendor Nuance Communications for $19.7 billion, chip and AI hardware and software vendor Nvidia's purchase of switch-maker Mellanox for $6.9 million, and machine learning vendor DataRobot's acquisition of Zepl, vendor of cloud data science systems, for an undisclosed price.

Smart Eye is listed on the Nasdaq exchange.

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