Gauging a person’s emotion from their intonation is the bread and butter of startups like Affectiva, Beyond Verbal, Cogito, and Realeyes, not to mention an area of acute study for tech giants like Amazon. The potential upside is enormous: Knowing the precise moment someone becomes frustrated, for example, could inform an intelligent assistant’s response or a customer service rep’s course of action. Alternatively, it might aid in health-monitoring efforts by detecting signs of conditions like dementia, congestive heart failure, and PTSD.

A relatively new entrant in the emotion detection segment is Empath, a Toyko-based startup founded in 2017. Using algorithms trained on tens of thousands of voice samples by Japanese health tech company Smartmedical, its staff of roughly 20 pioneered a platform dubbed Emotion AI that’s able to automatically detect one of four emotions — joy, anger, calmness, and sorrow — from real-time speech in any language, even in high-noise environments. It’s also able to suss out characteristics such as pitch, tone, speed, and “power” (valence).

A range of products fill out Empath’s suite, including My Mood forecast, an app employees can tap to track changes in their emotion and how those shifts correlate with weather patterns. (Team managers see both individual employees’ moods and aggregated team moods.) More straightforwardly, Empath’s Web Empath API — which works across Windows, iOS, Android — adds emotion detection to existing apps and services.

Empath

At IFA 2019 in Berlin, I spoke briefly with company representatives who asserted that Empath’s advantage over rivals is twofold. The company’s partner roster — which now numbers north of 500 and includes brands like NTT Docomo, Fujitsu, Philips, Lixil, TMJ, Persol, and Marubeni Information — supplies it with high-quality data with which to retrain its algorithms. And because it has chosen to hone in on a relatively narrow slice of emotions, Empath’s able to achieve higher baseline levels of accuracy and precision.

That’s more than just talk. Empath has won eight pitch contests and was recently selected as a member of the Japanese government’s J-Startup Program.

Web Empath AI has been principally deployed in call centers, where the company claims it has reduced supervisor overtime by 20% while boosting sales conversion by nearly 400%. But the startup says its solutions could in future find their way into video games, robots, and even vehicles. To this end, Empath recently partnered with toy company Bocco to create a sentiment-detecting messaging animatronic aimed at children and with Utaka to produce a lamp that cycles through hues corresponding with emotions.

Whatever Empath’s next move, it’s likely to be a lucrative one. Allied Market Research predicts the market will reach a whopping $33.9 billion globally in 2023, driven by the surging popularity of wearables, internet of things devices, and smartphones.