Apple acquires facial recognition and AI startup for undisclosed sum

Apple logo from inside Apple Store in Boston

The Apple logo is seen from inside the company's Boylston Street store in Boston on Sept. 16, 2015.

Credit: Blair Hanley Frank

2016 just started and Apple has already made its first acquisition of the year. Originally reported by The Wall Street Journal, Apple recently acquired a company called Emotient Inc. for an undisclosed sum.

Now what Emotient specializes in is particularly interesting. The company's technology is able to take snapshots of a user's facial expression, and then incorporate a proprietary AI-based algorithm in order to analyze the expression and determine the user's mood.

"It isn’t clear what Apple plans to do with Emotient’s technology, which was primarily sold to advertisers to help assess viewer reactions to their ads," the Journal notes. "Doctors also have tested it to interpret signs of pain among patients unable to express themselves, and a retailer used it to monitor shoppers’ facial expressions in store aisles, the company had said."

While Apple has historically made acquisitions for talent rather than any specific technology, Apple's acquisition of Emotient is particularly interesting in light of the company's September 2015 acquisition of a company called Facelift. Based out of Switzerland, Facelift's advanced face recognition technology is capable of capturing and digitally depicting facial expressions via 3D sensors in real-time. On the whole, Facelift's technology is rather impressive, a demo of which can be viewed below.

As opposed to some other big name tech companies out there, Apple's acquisitions are always surgical in nature, which is to say that they're not prone to picking up companies just for the sake of acquiring cool technology. Rather, Apple's acquisitions always have an underlying purpose designed to serve some future product or service. Only problem is, Apple's secretive ways often shield the company's true ambitions. Regardless, it'll be interesting to see how this technology eventually manifests itself in future Apple software.

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