If you wander into the installation at SXSW sponsored by software developer Krush, you'll be immediately taken by the elevated white pod spinning around in the center of the room beneath a black-and-white video-display ceiling. This is Moveo, Krush's melding of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset with something akin to a flight simulator, or stand-alone roller-coaster car. While it's certainly impressive, the gizmo is really meant to draw people in and call attention to two new face-reading apps the company was demoing: Emotit For President and Heystax.
Both apps make use of technology originally developed at the MIT Media Lab to help read the expression on the faces of autistic children, who often have a hard time conveying their emotions. Krush licensed the technology from creators Affectiva and is now applying it to apps that will have a much broader base.
Emotit for President shows you any number of political videos – Trump stumping or Hillary debating Bernie, for example. As you watch, it uses the camera on your smartphone to monitor your expression. When the video is done, the app tells you just how engaged you were in that particular clip compared to others who watched it. What's more, it will pinpoint the exact moment in the video that the majority of people found most engaging so that you can cut through the bluster and get to the juiciest part of the speech if you're pressed for time.
A company representative told Gizmag that the possibilities for the technology for both consumers and clients are nearly limitless. An app could be developed, for example, for movie studios so that the reactions of patrons could be gauged when a new trailer is dropped. Or, companies looking to conduct global focus groups for a new product in front of a million people could easily get the job done. Plus, unlike answers on survey forms, facial expressions tend to be more immediate and potentially, more honest.
The second way Krush is employing their facial-tracking software is through Heystax, a new twist on a dating app. After you register and set up parameters about who you are and who you'd like to connect with, the app starts a 30-second video call with your match. You have just that amount of time to convince the other person that you're right for them. While you both talk, the app reads your faces and lets the other person know just how impressed you were.
Once the call is over, you can use that information to indicate whether you'd like to take things forward. If you both say yes, you can then communicate further through the app. Interestingly, if you move the camera away from your face while chatting, the screen goes dark so that you don't inadvertently capture innocent bystanders.
Such an app is a logical progression for Krush, which also owns the social video chat service ooVoo. It's also, of course, not the first time we've seen emotion-reading software in action. The Japanese robot Pepper (who's also here at SXSW) can do some face-reading of its own and these stickers could help other robots do the same. Still, the incorporation of the technology into our phones is certainly a step forward.
Both Emotit For President and Heystax are currently awaiting approval in the iTunes and Google Play stores. Krush VP of Services and Operations Tom Thistleton says that Emotit should be out in the next one or two weeks and Heystack will follow in about three to four weeks.