Robotics

U California San Diego Looks Ahead to Robotics Research Following Apple Acquisition

Apple's acquisition of Emotient, an artificial intelligence start-up founded by three University of California San Diego (UCSD) researchers, has cleared the way for further robotics research at the university.

Emotient was founded in 2012 with the development of software that recognizes facial patterns as they come into view of a camera. The software can detect emotions including joy, disgust, anger and surprise.

Emotient's three cofounders — Javier Movellan, Marian Stewart Bartlett and Gwen Littlewort — joined Apple as part of the deal, along with four former UCSD students serving as employees. The team left behind the Qualcomm Institute-based Machine Perception Laboratory.

"According to Qualcomm Institute Director Ramesh Rao, Movellan and his colleagues will leave behind a research lab developed over the past decade, as well as a state-of-the-art robot named Diego-san (a fully-built robot originally designed to approximate the intelligence of a one-year-old human)," according to a news release.

"The Qualcomm Institute will take advantage of past involvement with the Machine Perception Lab and will reconfigure the facility to expand use of Diego-san research as a testbed for developing new software and hardware for more specialized robotic systems," said Rao in a prepared statement. "We are exploring ways to showcase the Diego-san robot while also leveraging the lab for faculty and staff researchers to develop other types of robotic systems to serve a variety of purposes and environments."

Although Apple confirmed the acquisition this month, it did not reveal any financial details.

It is the third acquisition in the last six months by Apple of small companies involved with artificial intelligence (AI). The others were Perceptio, which has developed deep-learning image recognition on mobile processors, and VocalIQ, whose technology can help a computer decipher natural speech.

Emotient was founded in 2012 with the development of software that recognizes facial patterns as they come into view of a camera. The software can detect emotions including joy, disgust, anger and surprise.

Company representatives said its software can detect emotions to assist advertisers, retailers, doctors and many other professions. Technology similar to Emotient's is already allowing banks to authenticate customers and helping marketing experts determine how to buy advertising.

The San Diego company has worked with a company to analyze the reaction of focus groups to ads shown during the Super Bowl. It developed the algorithm that led to Sony's "Smile Shutter" technology that prevents snapping a photo if the subject is not smiling. Emotient also developed RUBI, a robot designed to teach pre-schoolers to interact with, and learn from, a robot.

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.

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