What Happens When Academia & Industry Collaborate?

In the late 1990’s, Marian Bartlett was completing her doctorate in Machine Learning and Cognitive Psychology at UC San Diego and began to explore how images processed by the brain can intersect with the perception of a machine. She was interested in how facial recognition could reveal gut instincts and how accurate readings could help predict decisions.

Fast forward to 2012, and her team of four UC San Diego scientists at the Machine Perception Laboratory, founded by Javier Movellan, began working to revolutionize the artificial intelligence industry by creating what is now known as Emotient API, a facial recognition software that can read people’s emotions.

The AI industry has seen a big uptick of acquisition in the past few years. In 2016 alone, there were 40 AI companies acquired by the likes of Apple, IBM, Google, Intel, Yahoo, and so on. These acquisitions demonstrate that there is a new wave of technology that will change the way we, as consumers, interact with the world around us.

With the help of UC San Diego’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization, Emotient was able to leave the MP Lab and employ 50 people by the end of 2015. Ultimately, Apple placed a bid on Emotient, and in early January 2016, the company was acquired for an undisclosed sum [read: assumed large sum].

“We’re delighted at the success of Emotient getting purchased by Apple,” said Paul Roben, Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation at UC San Diego. “This is how the system should work. We brought all of our innovation resources together, spun out a company, which developed a technology. This is going to generate enthusiasm for the kind of entrepreneurship we do here.”

Apple provided their standard response to this deal, stating that “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans” but one can predict the type of innovations this technology will lead to. Some have suggested that your phone home screen will soon predict the apps you want to use, enhance photo libraries, and more.

This acquisition is a great example of industry exercising open innovation. In the acquisition, Emotient was put in a position to accelerate the development of their product. Additionally, the team was hired by Apple in the acquisition. Apple gained a technology that will enable them to continue to be competitive with their products.

If you are interested in connecting with industry partners like Apple to help your research or technology reach a wider audience, check out seed! You’ll find hundreds of industry partners across 20 science-based industries, as well as tools to help you navigate your collaboration. Happy seed-ing!


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