A Romanian woman turned her doctoral thesis in computer science, from the Grenoble Alpes University in France, into Emoface, a start-up that developed an application that generates 3D avatars capable of expressing different emotions, with real impact on the lives of people with difficulties in social interactions, for example children with autism.
Tested for two years in France, the Emoface Play & Learn Emotions application is based, according to Romanian Adela Barbulescu, on avatars guided by artificial intelligence, which generates facial gestures and expressions, shows the development company.
"The design of the application was outlined with the help of my associate, Mayra Lima, UI/UX designer, whose sister is autistic and who knows very well the daily life and specific needs of families with neuroatypical children. I was initially inspired by a study carried out by researcher in psychology Simon Baron-Cohen, who used videos with people who express emotions to train emotion recognition for adults with autism. I realized that the same way of learning would be more effective if they used more easily controlled visual content, which can be adapted to the needs of users. I presented a simple prototype for an emotion recognition test using 3D animations generated in the studies and received positive responses from parents and doctors who recommend these therapies (... ) professionals need dynamic, controllable and complex materials that allow them to simulate what is happening in reality. And Emoface responds to this need through playful activities that allow interaction with 3D avatars. We are practically coming up with a new, stimulating work methodology, which basically uses avatars piloted by artificial intelligence, which generates gestures and facial expressions, so that the interaction is as natural as possible," Emoface founder Adela Barbulescu explained.
The main beneficiaries of Emoface are therapists and patients who train their social skills.
According to the cited source, the first developed app features over 150 exercises, and its entire content of 3D animations with expressive avatars, which reproduce facial expressions, is randomly generated, which prevents the memorization of the answers in the tests used, for example, to recognize emotions. The application has 600 beta users in five countries and will be launched in Romanian at the beginning of April.
The platform was financially supported by the team members, but also through incubation programs, such as SATT Linksium (2017-2019), foundations and national development programs (BPIFrance) or Innovators for Children (2020-2021).
The estimated investment required for the development of the subsequent Emoface applications by 2023 exceeds 500,000 euros.
Emoface is one of the five projects that are part of the second edition of the Innovators for Children accelerator, a program developed by Impact Hub Bucharest, in partnership with Impact Hub Basel and Fondation Botnar, through which startups and NGOs receive mentoring, resources and funding to develop tech solutions that contribute to children's well-being.
The start-up developed in France, Emoface offers a range of educational games apps in order to improve the recognition of emotions and the development of social skills. Currently, the application is in the stage of attracting funding for development and launch on the Romanian market.