Mainstream neuroscience companies combine Smart Eye and IMotions
Smart Eye, a provider of behavior analysis solutions, has acquired iMotions Global, creator of a software platform that collects and analyzes data from biometric sensors. The combination will create a company with a global footprint and broad capabilities for measuring and analyzing human behavior.
Driving behavior technology for automotive applications
Consumer neuroscience, commonly referred to as neuromarketing, was initially geared towards predicting the performance of advertising or other content. Despite being labeled “neuro,” the field encompasses a variety of non-neuroscience-based data collection methods: facial expression analysis, eye tracking, biometric data such as heart rates, and others.
The automotive market now appears to be a much more important application of these techniques. Measuring the driver’s attention and emotional state, for example, could dramatically improve vehicle safety. In 2019, 2.7 million people were injured in road crashes in the United States. Deaths topped 36,000. More than a third of deaths have been attributed to distracted, drowsy or drunk drivers.
Smart Eye, founded in 1999, has been a leader in eye tracking technology with an emphasis on driver monitoring systems. In our recent interview, CEO Martin Krantz explained that for over a decade the company has focused on using lab technology and adapting it to the automotive environment. After seat belts in the 1960s and airbags in the 1990s, driver monitoring systems could be the next big step forward in auto safety, Krantz says.
Smart Eye recently acquired Affectiva, a provider of facial coding technology they call “Emotion AI”. Facial coding is a technique that measures a person’s emotional state by analyzing small and often fleeting changes in expression. The combination of eye tracking and face coding could enable even more effective security solutions.
Beyond accident prevention, on-board detection systems could also help mobility providers detect the emotional state of passengers in order to improve the customer experience. Another app could detect an abandoned child in a vehicle, the cause of a small but tragic number of deaths each year.
iMotions: lab tests and beyond
Historically, iMotions has developed software to analyze a variety of biosensor inputs. These include galvanic skin response, eye tracking, respiration, EEG brain wave measurement, and others. Academic and business users conduct studies in a laboratory environment to analyze the answers to whatever their research needs dictate. This could include advertising, psychological experiments, video content, etc.
When asked about creating an inexpensive testing system using mobile devices or other non-lab equipment, iMotions CEO Peter Hartzbech considers eye tracking and expression analysis facial expressions are the most likely methods for such a service.
Another possible direction is to assess the audience’s response to speakers and trainers. Hartzbech says they’ve already created a combination of beacons and “patched sensors” that can track participant responses at specific times or throughout the day. These metrics could be augmented with a camera capturing an entire room to measure the emotional response of many audience members.
Yet another remote capability uses eye tracking data for distance training. Hartzbech gave an example where a trainer, located thousands of miles away, could see exactly what the person was looking at on an oil rig.
No marginal science
In its early years, neuromarketing received very little respect from serious academics. Some of the early providers of commercial services made claims that were difficult to substantiate. This skepticism has slowed research in the space and hampered adoption by many brands.
The label of pseudoscience has been dispelled, in part, by research at Temple University that validated the predictive power of fMRI advertising studies. Today, iMotions alone claims more than 1,300 clients worldwide, including 55 of the Top 100 Universities (QS). While many of these applications are not necessarily related to marketing, as academics use the suite of tools available, their confidence and knowledge of the applications will increase.
Increasingly inexpensive tools for eye tracking and biometric measurements have also sparked greater interest in the space across a wide range of businesses. But, perhaps the best indication of the value of this technology is the price of these acquisitions. Smart Eye paid $ 73 million for Affectiva and $ 46 million for iMotions. These are big bets on emerging uses for well-established measurement systems.