A Romanian female researcher turned her doctor thesis in informatics into a startup which developed an innovative tech with real impact in the lives of people having difficulties with social interactions, as are the children suffering from autism.
After 2 years of testing in France, Emoface Play & Learn Emotions app, which allows users to interact with 3D avatars able to express emotions in social context and simulate what happens in reality, will also be available in Romanian language.
Adela Bărbulescu, Informatics researcher and founder Emoface:Shaping the app was made together with my associate, Mayra Lima, UI/UX designer with an autistic sister and who knows well the daily choirs and specific needs of the families with neurotypical children. I got my initial inspiration from a study made by the psychology researcher Simon Baron-Cohen, who used videos with people expressing emotions in order to train emotion recognition for adults with autism.
I realized the same learning method will be more efficient if a visual content easier to control would be used, one that can be adapted to the users’ needs.
We presented a simple prototype for a test of recognizing emotions using 3D animations generated during studies and we received positive answers from the parents and doctors who propose those therapies
The main beneficiaries of Emoface are therapeuts and patients who train their social abilities.
On long term, users will become more autonomous, their communication will get better and they will manage to manage their emotions better, especially in the moments when they are annoyed or frustrated. Also, the progression through the app, through interaction without failure, leads to building self trust, which improves the mental health and ameliorates social inclusion in general.
Adela:Normally, to teach the children a new emotion, specialists are using pictograms, printed images or photos with people showing for example joy or fear, but a differentiation appears when it comes of what happens to real life, where everything is very fast and with a lot of info to process. That is why professionals need dynamic materials, controllable ones and with a complex content, which will allow them to simulate what happens in reality.
And Emoface answers this need through ludic activities which allow interaction with 3D avatars. We are practically coming up with a new work methodology, stimulant, who at the base serves avatars piloted by an AI, who generates gestures and facial expressions so that the interaction is as natural as possible.
The first developed version of the app includes over 150 exercises, and all the 3D animations content with expressive avatars, who are reproducing facial expressions, is generated randomly, which prevents memorating the answers in the tests used, for example, to recognize emotions.
The platform was supported financially by the team members, but also through incubators, like SATT Linksium (2017-2019), foundations and national development programs (BPIFrance) or Innovators for Children (2020-2021).
The needed investment to develop the next Emoface apps until 2023 is over half million euro. For now, the first app, working on basic emotions, has 600 beta users in 5 countries and is to be launched in Romanian in April.