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The business of deciphering facial expressions

The Valencian company Emotion Research Lab has developed a system that studies human behavior through facial analysis.

The eyes are the mirror of the soul: they never lie. That’s a classic proverb, but it has recently been proven to be true. However, it’s not just looks that say something. It is also the gesticulation of the eyebrows, mouth, cheeks and nose that reveals what is not said with words. Facial expressions reveal a cluster of bodily sensations, which are conveyed in six simple universal emotions: happiness, surprise, anger, displeasure, fear and sadness. That is the base upon which Emotion Research Lab, a Valencian company started in 2013, was founded. It has analyzed the intricacies of the human face through a software that reveals what our feelings are in real life and in real time.

With the help of artificial intelligence, the company has developed a system that is a gold mine for companies looking for accurate answers. What do my clients really want? Or for politicians who agonize over deciphering the needs of their voters. It is there, in the marketing and political analysis, where Emotion Research Lab has found a niche market, as explained by María Pocoví, CEO and co-founder of the company, which has broken barriers.

The firm was started five years ago, after Pocoví (expert in neuromarketing and neuropolitics) and Alicia Mora (industrial and electronic engineer) met at an MBA program. “Back then, they were already talking about facial recognition of emotions. We saw that developing a system of that type made a lot of sense in Spain,” argued Pocoví. They hit the ground running, collecting resources from friends and family, and focusing 100% on the project. “It was about being dedicated to it full-time from the start,” said the company representative. However, little by little, they realized that the innovation they had created was not very well-understood. “You couldn’t understand the technology…there was no market for it,” she argued.

But instead of throwing it all out the window, they packed their bags and traveled to the other side of the Atlantic. It was more than 10,000 kilometers from their place of birth that the founders of Emotion Research Lab found their first client. “We went to Mexico to open the market,” explained Pocoví. It was 2014, and the context was ideal for the company: the year prior to the intermediate elections in Mexico. It was then that the firm debuted in the world of politics. Their tool, which captures people’s emotions through a webcam, was used by market research agencies who needed to know voters’ reactions to certain speeches and various proposals.

The application yielded results and gradually took hold among large companies. Deloitte, Unilever, Volkswagen, P&G, Embraer, among other companies, have enjoyed the fruits of Emotion Research Lab’s labor. Through its online platform, the firm has analyzed more than 503,000 faces and has embarked on more than 1,120 projects around the world. But the entrepreneurs want to go beyond. They are now looking to have their system used on mobile devices, so that the apparatuses are capable of understanding what the user needs.

The new adventure on which Pocoví and Mora have embarked emerged after having been selected by Plug&Play, the most important startup accelerator in the Silicon Valley, in 2017. “We spent six months there and we contacted important clients like Fujitsu, Philips, Midea and Intel,” the firm’s CEO highlighted. Today, their gaze is fixed on the US and Chinese markets. However, more than anything, their objective is to make machines understand humans.

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