Affectiva raises $26M to develop an AI that really gets you

by Brian Nordli
April 11, 2019
Affectiva Team shot
Photo via affectiva

We interact with robots in some form or another every day — but when was the last time an AI pal like Siri or Alexa truly understood you?

The answer is probably never, but it is an important question to raise as we speed toward a future where robots are driving our cars and trucks, pouring our coffees and checking us into hotel rooms.

If we want these AI assistants to be truly useful, they need to be able to understand us on a deeper level.”


Much of our communication is unspoken. It’s in our body language, our facial expressions and our tones of voice. But how do you teach an AI driving taxis or checking guests into hotel rooms to pick up on those nonverbal cues?

That’s the question Affectiva is trying to answer with its Human Perception AI, and the company just raised $26 million in funding to accelerate and evolve those efforts.

“Today, our exchanges with smart devices are often frustrating and ineffective,” said Gabi Zijderveid, Affectiva’s CMO and head of product strategy. “These technologies — designed to interface with humans — are significantly hindered without a deep understanding of what’s happening with the people they interact with. If we want these AI assistants to be truly useful, they need to be able to understand us on a deeper level.”

Born out of the MIT Media Labs in 2009, Affectiva created and defined the category of Emotion AI: a field where robots can read our body language and actions to detect the nuances of human emotions.

Affectiva plans to use the latest round to bring its AI to the automotive industry, where it will help developers create autonomous vehicles that can understand all things human. In the short term, that means semi-autonomous cars that can read when a driver is tired or distracted and adjust accordingly.

Eventually, it’ll mean a driverless car that can adapt to the moods and needs of the person inside.

To get there, Affectiva plans to aggressively grow its research and development team, hiring for machine learning, computer vision, data science, embedded systems engineering and more. They’re also in the market for a new office in downtown Boston.

“We knew that, in order to be successful, we would have to deliver automotive-grade technology that is ready for deployment in vehicles, meeting all the safety standards and regulations of the automotive industry,” Zijderveid said. “This requires for us to grow the company, hire more people to work on the technology to get it to scale and to acquire and annotate more automotive data. To do this, we needed to raise capital — hence our recent raise.”

Aptiv PLC, as well as Trend Forward Capital, Motley Fool Ventures and CAC contributed to the round, which brought Affectiva’s total funding to $53 million.

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