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Smart Eye, the publicly traded Swedish company that supplies driver monitoring systems for a dozen automakers, has acquired emotion-detection software startup Affectiva for $73.5 million in a cash-and-stock deal.
Affectiva, which spun out of the MIT Media Lab in 2009, has developed software that can detect and understand human emotion, which Smart Eye is keen to combine with its own AI-based eye-tracking technology. The companies’ founders see an opportunity to expand beyond driver monitoring systems — tech that is often used in conjunction with advanced driver assistance systems to track and measure awareness — and into the rest of the vehicle. Together, the technology could help them break into the emerging “interior sensing” market, which can be used to monitor the entire cabin of a vehicle and deliver services in response to the occupant’s emotional state.
Under the terms of the deal, $67.5 million will be paid with 2,354,668 new Smart Eye shares, of which 2,015,626 are to be issued upon closing of the transaction. The remaining 339,042 Smart Eye shares will be issued within two years of closing. About $6 million will be paid in cash once the deal closes in June 2021.
Affectiva and Smart Eye were competitors. A meeting at the technology trade show CES in 2020 put the two companies on a path to merge.
“Martin and I realized like, wow, we are on a path to compete with each other — and wouldn’t it be so much better if we joined forces?” Affective co-founder and CEO Dr. Rana el Kaliouby said in an interview Tuesday. “By joining forces, we kind of check all the boxes for what the OEMs are looking for with interior sensing, we leapfrog the competition and we have an opportunity to do this better and faster than we could have done it on our own.”
Boston-based Affectiva brings its emotion-detection software to the deal, which will allow Smart Eye to offer its existing automotive partners a variety of products. Smart Eye helps Affectiva move beyond the development and prototype work and into production contracts. Smart Eye has won 84 production contracts with 13 OEMs, including BMW and GM. Smart Eye, which has offices in Gothenburg, Detroit, Tokyo and Chongqing, China, also has a division that provides research organizations such as NASA with high-fidelity eye tracking systems for human factors research.
Smart Eye founder and CEO Martin Krantz said that European manufacturers building luxury and premium vehicles led the charge for driver monitoring systems.
“We see the same pattern repeating itself now for interior sensing,” Krantz said. “I think a large part of the early contracts will be European premium OEMs such as Mercedes, BMW, Audi, JLR, Porsche.” Krantz added that there are a number of other premium brands it will target in other regions, including Cadillac and Lexus.
The opportunity will initially be in passenger vehicles driven by humans and will eventually expand as greater levels of automated driving enter the market.
Affectiva, which employs 100 people at its offices in Boston and Cairo, also has another business unit that applies its emotio-detection software to media analytics. This division, which will be part of the deal and will operate separately, is profitable, Kaliouby said, noting the software is used by 70% of the world’s largest advertisers to measure and understand emotional responses to media content.