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TECH SPACE
Affectiva technology taps into people's emotions
by Staff Writers
San Francisco (AFP) April 1, 2011


Nestle adds augmented reality to cereal boxes
San Francisco (AFP) March 31, 2011 - Nestle is out to boost its share of the global breakfast cereal market with a dose of augmented reality supplied by French technology firm Dassault Systemes. A marker printed on 26 million Nestle cereal boxes being sold in 53 countries lets people with Web cameras linked to computers play an augmented reality game starring the main character of the animated film "Rio." Players must lead an animated blue parrot named "Blu" to a big bowl of cereal on screen using the marker from the back of the cereal box.

Webcams read the marker and picture it on screen as a cup that players use to leave a trail of cereal bits for Blu to follow along a path to a giant bowl. The game built by a 3DVIA branch of Dassault Systemes was not released in the United States, but it was on display at a Web 2.0 Expo that wrapped up on Thursday in San Francisco. The Rio game launched in mid-March was the third Nestle cereal marketing project for 3DVIA, which specializes in "serious games" designed for major corporations. The most recent 3DVIA serious game was crafted to train oil rig workers at a major energy company, marketing manager Emmy Jonassen told AFP at Web 2.0.

"Fortune 500 companies like Nestle, Boeing and BMW are realizing the potential of what gaming technology can do for them, whether it is a sales tool, a marketing piece or serious training," Jonassen said. "Companies save a lot of money by having employees train in the virtual world instead of in the real world." The first time 3DVIA put augmented reality markers on Nestle cereal boxes was in France, where the company's share of the cereal market reportedly grew 1.6 percent. "It helps push cereal boxes off shelves," Jonassen said. "It is a pretty effective tool."

Computers may soon understand people better than their spouses do, courtesy of innovations from startup Affectiva that expand on groundbreaking sensing research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Affectiva co-founder and MIT professor Rosalind Picard showed off the fledgling firm's feelings-sensing applications at a Web 2.0 Expo that ended Thursday in San Francisco.

"Feelings are complicated," she said. "Now, we can begin to measure them and learn."

Affectiva technology enables computers powering websites to scan web camera imagery for facial expressions, eye movements, and gestures that provide clues to emotional reactions to anything from film scenes, to game action or ads.

"It is getting past wishful thinking and wondering to understanding what is really going on, and that makes it much more actionable," Picard told AFP.

"We all have trouble reading emotional cues when we are on the Web," she continued. "Everybody who has been there for a while has been misunderstood at some time."

People with Web cameras connected to computers were invited to try the technology by viewing a set of ads online at an "Interactive: Analyze Your Smile" page at forbes.com.

Picard provided a glimpse at a "Q Sensor" that can be strapped to a wrist or ankle to assess when people are excited or bored. The sensor measures electricity being conducted through the skin to determine arousal.

A research version of the Q Sensor was available, with a consumer model due out by the end of the year.

"There are therapists using this, there are parents using this, we had a lawyer buy one the other day to measure his own stress," Picard said as she pointed to a Q Sensor on her wrist.

"Anywhere there is emotion, there is an application."

Affectiva has built prototype eyeglasses with a small camera and other technology in the frames.

Wearers engaged in conversations are signaled with tiny green, yellow, or red lights when they are being captivating, losing a companion's attention, or should simply shut up, according to Picard.

Research that led to the startup came from efforts to read the feelings of people with autism or other conditions that rendered them unable to effectively use words to communicate.

"We can't replace all the words they want, but at least we can read if their frustration levels going up and they are ready to explode," Picard said.

"I just saw that we could make a difference in people's lives with something to help them be better understood," she continued. "That is what we are really after."

Picard also envisions Affectiva technology helping people to better understand themselves and avoid situations like "buyer's remorse" by letting their true feelings govern a purchasing decision.

"This is going to be amazing for the science," Picard said. "We could really finally understand what the heck is going on with how people communicate emotionally."

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