Today we begin a series on tech companies to watch in 2016. We interviewed analysts, investors and integrators and arrived at a handful of technology providers, beginning today with Artificial Intelligence (AI) company Affectiva.

Year founded: 2009

Founders: Rana el Kaliouby and Rosalind Picard 

headshot of Rana el Kaliouby

About the Founders: Rana el Kaliouby is Affectiva's chief science and strategy officer. She invented the company’s automated emotion-sensing and analytics technology, now used by more than 1,400 brands and one third of the Fortune Global 100. Before that, as a research scientist at MIT Media Lab, she spearheaded the applications of emotion technology in a variety of fields, including mental health and autism research. She was inducted into the “Women in Engineering” Hall of Fame. Picard is no longer with Affectiva.

Headquartered in: Waltham, Mass.

Number of employees: 35

Number of customers: Undisclosed

Awards/recognition: Rana el Kaliouby: Smithsonian Magazine's 2015 American Ingenuity Award for Technology; Daniel McDuff, Affectiva director of research: WIRED Innovation Fellow 2015; DMA Innovation Award 2015: Consumer Insight Solution, Measurement; Inc5000: No. 6 top software company in 2015

Funding to date: $19.725 million. Investors are Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Horizons Ventures, WPP, Myrian Capital and the National Science Foundation.

people watching tv as affectiva technology picks up emotions in their faces

When was your latest major platform release and what did it involve? One of our products is our Affdex Software Developer Kit (SDK), available on iOS, Android and Windows. The last release was Affdex SDK 2.0. Key enhancements include: Improved accuracy with new expression models trained over a broader set of facial images; better ease of use and accessibility by standardizing models for seven emotions (anger, sadness, disgust, joy, surprise, fear and contempt); new facial expressions for a total of 15 facial action units, including nuanced expressions: attention, brow furrow, brow raise, inner brow raise, eye closure, nose wrinkle, upper lip raise, lip suck, lip pucker, lip press, mouth open, lip corner depressor, chin raise, smirk, smile; 3D head orientation metrics.

What is one thing you have no one else does in this space? The world's largest emotion data repository and the depth and size of Affectiva's emotion data and norms. We have analyzed more than 3.8 million faces in 75 countries, accumulating the world's largest emotion database for a total of 40 billion-plus emotion data points. Affectiva has mobile SDKs for iOS and Android and one coming out for Unity. 

This allows developers to emotion-enable their mobile apps and devices with our technology. No one else has all of these. We also have the largest patent portfolio of any start-up in the emotion technology space.

What can we expect in terms of innovation in 2016? We have an exciting year head. We are aggressively expanding into new markets beyond media and advertising where we have had a market leadership position for a number of years now. Gaming, for example, will be a huge priority for us next year. Our emotion sensing technology can transform not only how games are developed but also how they are played. Using our technology to measure facial expressions of emotion we can understand what players are feeling. 

This allows game developers to capture real-time analytics on the players, it enhances play testing and enables game developers to modify the game to dynamically respond to a player's emotions. We are also seeing commercial interest from automotive, robotics, healthcare, human resources, online education and legal and we'll do more work in these markets as well. Lastly, we will continue to grow our client and partner base in media and advertising.