Artificial emotional intelligence, or “emotion AI,” is emerging as a key component of the broader AI movement. The general idea is this: It’s all very well having machines that can understand and respond to natural-language questions, and even beat humans at games, but until they can decipher non-verbal cues such as vocal intonations, body language, and facial expressions, humans will always have the upper hand in understanding other humans.

And it’s against that backdrop that countless companies are working toward improving computer vision and voice analysis techniques, to help machines detect the intricate and finely balanced emotions of a flesh-and-bones homo sapiens.

One of those companies is Realeyes, a company that helps big brands such as AT&T, Mars, Hershey’s, and Coca-Cola gauge human emotions through desktop computers’ and mobile devices’ cameras. The London-based startup, which was founded in 2007, today announced a fresh $12.4 million round of funding from Draper Esprit, the VC arm of Japanese telecom giant NTT Docomo, Japanese VC fund Global Brain, Karma Ventures, and The Entrepreneurs Fund. It follows a $16.2 million series A financing last May.

Market ready

Realeyes targets its technology at marketing campaigns, including videos and other creative assets such as photos or GIFs, as part of focus groups. Realeyes sources participants, who share access to their webcams and smartphone cameras, and Realeyes uses so-called “facial coding” to measure human emotion, attention level, and sentiment through their facial expressions.

The company also uses AI to analyze the words used in written survey responses, which complements the data garnered from facial coding.

Above: Realeyes: Facial coding

The company delivers reports to their clients within a day, giving brands a chance to dig down into the audience data to see how different demographics and market segments responded.

Above: Realeyes dashboard

Emotion detection

Though there are other startups out there working on similar use cases for this technology, facial coding is just one of a number of conduits through which companies are using AI to figure out how people feel. Some reports indicate that the broader emotion detection and recognition market was worth around $12 billion in 2018, and could grow to more than $90 billion by 2024.

Israeli startup Beyond Verbal is developing emotion analytics smarts that looks for signs of anger, anxiety, arousal, and more through analyzing a person’s voice — not their specific words, but the intonations. This could prove useful for mental health assessment, market research, or even helping call centers improve relationships with telephone customers. Amazon is also working toward improving its own Alexa AI assistant’s ability to engage with users through detecting emotion in their voice.

Researchers have also been looking at ways to improve emotion AI classification through combining data from both speech and facial expressions.

With a fresh $12.4 million in the bank, Realeyes is well-positioned to expand its service globally. Indeed, with both NTT Docomo and Global Brain on board for this round of funding, it’s clear what market Realeyes is targeting next — Japan is the third biggest market for advertising spend globally, after the U.S. and China.

“With new Japanese investors NTT DOCOMO Ventures and Global Brain on board, we have the perfect partners to help us expand into one of the biggest and most exciting ad markets in the world,” noted Realeyes CEO and cofounder Mihkel Jäätma. “There’s an almost insatiable appetite for online video in Japan, and Realeyes’ AI-powered solutions provide the perfect, data-driven solution for advertisers looking to make the most of this huge demand.”

Above: Realeyes CEO and cofounder Mihkel Jäätma

The company said that it will also use its fresh cash injection to grow in the U.S. and EMEA regions, while it also plans to expand into other industries beyond marketing, including areas such as smart cities, mental well-being, and robotics.

“This is only the start of the Realeyes journey,” Jäätma said. “Moving beyond the marketing sector, we’ve only seen a glimpse of what emotion AI can do. Boosted by the global rollout of 5G networks, Realeyes is on a mission to humanize technology, fundamentally changing the way we interact with our devices every single day.”

Realeyes now claims 78 employees, half of whom work in R&D, who are spread across offices in New York, Boston, London, and Budapest.

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