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Asia's richest man and Kleiner Perkins lead new $12 million funding round for MIT spin-out Affectiva

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 7, 2012 07:30 AM

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Silicon Valley VC firm Kleiner Perkins and Horizons Ventures, an investment firm owned by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing, are leading the latest round of funding for Waltham-based Affectiva. The MIT Media Lab spin-out (which I first covered in 2009) is marketing two products: software for using webcams to analyze a user's facial expressions, and a wristband sensor that monitors the wearer's emotions using skin conductance.

The facial expression software, called Affdex, is primarily of interest right now to ad agencies and market researchers, who might want to show a TV spot or movie trailer to a test group and see which parts made them smile, frown, or look confused. The Q wristband sensor can also be used in that kind of market research, but it's also employed by researchers who focus on conditions like autism, epilepsy, and anxiety.

The new money $12 million "will accelerate development of both products," says Affectiva CEO David Berman, right. "We're lining up partners that have hardware manufacturing and distribution already in place for the Q Sensor, and we think that being able to test an ad or any content around the world, using a webcam, is really disruptive. It's something that we think will allow creators to optimize their content, especially by taking into acount how different cultures respond to it." Eventually, Berman predicts, we might share videos or other online content with our social networks based on how they made us feel: IE, "Here's a link to a YouTube clip that made me smile, cry, or wince in agony."

"We think the Facebook 'like' button is going to be obsolete," he says. "Instead, you'll be able to share a range of emotions while you're interacting with social content." You can try out the technology for yourself here, by viewing and responding to recent Super Bowl ads.

Affectiva co-founder and chief scientist Rosalind Picard is still on the faculty at MIT, and co-founder and chief technology officer Rana el Kaliouby also works as a research scientist there. Berman says that the company is approaching 40 employees, and "we should double in the next year." The company has raised $17.7 million in equity financing thus far.

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched 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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