Like many entrepreneurs, David Berman thinks that his new company is pretty darn special—and for good reason. Affectiva, the small company that Berman heads, makes use of wireless wrist-pad bio sensors, tiny webcams and unique facial recognition software to track and measure the changing emotional states of people. Depending upon their needs, the firm’s clients and customers can then use this valuable information in a variety of different ways, ranging from communicating more effectively with children with autism to marketing products more powerfully to consumers to teaching heart patients how to relax and exercise better.
Affectiva has already tested its facial recognition technology with one of its main investors, the advertising and marketing giant WPP, as well as with a couple of other marketing-oriented partners. As a result, company executives particularly see great promise for bringing their new brand of emotional measurement to the advertising world, along with the retail business and personal health field.
“We think we’re on to something very unique and fairly disruptive,” says Berman, who left his former post as president of worldwide sales for Webex to become president and CEO of Affectiva in 2009. “Emotions drive everything we do. If you can harness that, it’s a powerful way to shape your experiences.”
Unlike most new companies, though, Affectiva will get to strut its stuff at the 2013 International CES show in Las Vegas. The Waltham, Mass.-based firm will be showing off its affective computing technology and some of its applications at a booth sponsored by the National Science Foundation, which has funded much of the firm’s work through research grants. Affectiva’s primary aim at CES is to recruit larger partners to fund and commercialize its technology.
Affectiva is one of scores of entrepreneurial and young companies from across the U.S. and abroad that will be exhibiting some out-of-the-box ideas in the Eureka Park TechZone at CES. In addition to Affectiva, more than 100 innovative startups in Eureka Park will be demonstrating a wide range of different technologies, platforms and products. The lineup includes firms that can make little robots talk to kids from remote locations, bring virtual reality to life through innovative eyewear, protect eardrums from noise damage with special membranes, convert body heat into electrical energy through unique wrist pads, and allow music fans to create their own tunes using their smartphones.
Take Interbots, for example. At CES, the Pittsburgh-based firm will show off toy robots and interactive apps that it has created to help children with autism practice social interactions and other daily life skills. The talking 10-inch robots can help teach kids how to carry out such daily tasks as brushing their teeth, combing their hair, sharing toys and greeting friends, interacting with them through touchscreen apps on smart devices like the iPad.
So far, Interbots has developed the robots and the initial iPad apps for making them talk and interact from afar. Aiming for a pilot commercial launch of its products in early 2014, Interbots plans to develop additional apps for the robots, as well as curriculum guides for parents to use with their children.
“Our focus is on the consumer market and creating apps,” says Seema Patel, president and CEO of Interbots, whose firm has also received research grants from the National Science Foundation. “We’re not really trying to replace the therapists.” Patel, who founded Interbots with fellow researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center in 2005, said the firm’s market is the four million-plus families in the U.S., Europe and East Asia with children with autism between the ages of three and 15.
Or consider Asius Technologies. Based in Longmont, Colo., this startup focuses on creating soft plastic membranes for earbuds, hearing aids, headsets, in-ear monitors and other listening devices. Using an in-ear audio technology known as the Ambrose Diaphonic Ear Lens (ADEL), named after its founder, these soft, sometimes inflatable membranes are designed to protect sensitive eardrums from noise pressure and damage while offering users a richer sound quality and more customized fit.
“I wanted to make them safe,” says company Founder and Head of Asius Technologies Stephen Ambrose, a former recording artist and audio pioneer who has worked with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Bon Jovi and Pink Floyd over the last 40 years. He noted that a 2009 study found that there’s a 70 percent increased risk of hearing loss associated with iPods and other portable audio devices. “It’s an idea whose time has come,” he says. “Enough people sustain hearing losses from personal listening devices.”
At CES, Asius will demonstrate both its new earbuds and some hybrid hearing aid/in-ear monitors. Ambrose sees potential to market these hearing devices to a variety of diverse groups, including the hearing-impaired, music fans, hunters, shooters and the military.
Then there’s Innovega. In an especially futuristic touch that smacks of the “Holodeck” in the Star Trek
TV series, the company, based in Bellevue, Wash., has developed megapixel augmented reality eyewear that allows consumers to view the real world around them and virtual reality in the same space at the same time. Using special contact lens and a companion set of thin, “smart” glasses, users can enjoy normal vision while also looking at life-size images from their smartphones, portable game consoles and other digital media in the same space.
“It’s like a camera that enables the eye to see two different types of planes,” says Stephen Willey, CEO of Innovega. “Your real world is in focus but so is the virtual world…. So you now have these two worlds available to you.”
Unable to demonstrate its eyewear yet because it still needs FDA approval to market it, Innovega will use special cameras at CES to show how its augmented reality system will work. The firm, which aims to license its technology to larger companies, is already working with the U.S. Department of Defense on a prototype of its products.
Another standout startup that will be exhibiting at CES is Perpetua Power Source Technologies. Based in Corvallis, Ore., this firm, which had previously specialized in industrial energy harvesting solutions, is now working on a technology that can convert body heat to electrical energy. This mobile energy could then be used to power wrist watches, smartphone accessories, wireless heart monitors and other low-power and personal monitoring devices.
“This new body heat to electric energy technology can greatly extend the life of batteries or replace them altogether in some applications,” says Jerry Wianta, vice president of marketing for Perpetua.
Wianta said Perpetua is eyeing three market categories for its new body heat conversion technology—sports and fitness equipment, health and medical devices and CE devices. At CES, it will showcase the technology with at least one budding development partner, Texas Instruments, in the medical device field.
ZOOZ Mobile is one more intriguing startup that will show its face at CES. The small firm, based in Atlanta, crafts mobile apps that enable smartphone users to create, combine, share and distribute their own songs, games and other musical content. ZOOZ Beat, the company’s flagship product, has already generated more than one million downloads since it debuted on Apple’s iTunes App Store four years ago.
“We’re trying to find new ways to engage” listeners and “discover new songs in new ways,” says Gil Weinberg, a Georgia Institute of Technology professor who founded ZOOZ Mobile in 2008. “So far, we have three apps. We hope to get to 12 or more.”
Weinberg said ZOOZ Mobile will demonstrate some of its free new apps at CES, as well as a new “robotic musician” that it has designed for sale. With ambitious plans to expand their product line in 2013, he said company officials are hoping that “CES can help us get to the next level.”
Mobile apps and accessories, energy solutions, virtual reality and wireless sensors are among the most popular technologies and products that entrepreneurs will be showcasing at CES this year.
Many of the 100 or so young firms exhibiting in the Eureka Park area will be focusing on one or more of these hot technologies. They will be seeking to stand out with either superior versions of the technologies or more marketable applications.
Not surprisingly, mobile apps and accessories top the list. Besides ZOOZ Mobile, at least 10 other startups are developing apps, accessories or other products for mobile phone users. The new products range from gadgets that enable drivers to use their smartphones as hands-free GPS devices on their car dashboards (DashIT) to handheld medical scanners that work with smartphones to gauge a person’s current state of health (Scanadu) to supermolecular ceramic coatings that protect cell phones and other mobile devices against water damage and corrosion (Integrated Surface Technologies).
For instance, Scanadu will promote a real-life version of a Star Trek-style medical tricorder. The two-year-old startup, based out of the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., is developing the small, handheld device, which would assess a person’s state of health by measuring blood pressure, body temperature, pulmonary function and other vital statistics in a non-contact, non-invasive way.
The tricorder is designed to work with a smartphone, using the phone’s processing power and screen to analyze and display the information. Star Trek’s Dr. Leonard McCoy would undoubtedly approve.