New Emotion Detection Sunglasses Could Change Medicine and Social Life

One day soon, you may be standing next to someone wearing sunglasses at a bus stop and notice that they are staring at you, really staring. Look closely at the glasses and you might find a logo with the name "O2Amp", and if you do, you’ll know that person is trying to “see” your emotions.

That's precisely what a new technology pioneered by 2A1 Labs is designed to do, and it may radically change not only everyday interactions, but also the medical and security industries, to name a few.

Recently I briefly discussed the technology with Mark Changizi, Director of Human Cognition at 2AI Labs, and the author of Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man and The Vision Revolution.

DiSalvo: How did you come up with the idea for glasses that “see” emotions?

Changizi: One of my earlier research directions concerned the evolution and design of color vision in primates, including us. I argued in my work and in The Vision Revolution that color vision is for seeing the emotions, moods and health of others -- the blushes, blanches, and other spectral signals we show on our skin.

These spectral changes happen because of the underlying physiology of blood under the skin -- the hemoglobin's concentration varies, as does its level of oxygenation. Our peculiar variety of color vision turns out to be optimally tuned for detecting these blood-grounded spectral signals. (And the primates with color vision turn out to be the ones with naked spots.) In a sense, our eyes evolved to be oximetry-cameras.

The question my 2AI co-director, Tim Barber, and I asked was, Might it be possible to further amplify our perception of these signals? That is, in light of the tight fit between our color vision on the one hand, and skin and blood on the other, can we create passive filter technology that enhances perception of the human spectral signals we give off?

It turns out we can. If we know the signal we're trying to amplify, then we can figure out what parts of the spectrum to reduce or eliminate to make this happen.

Color meanings chart, courtesy of 2AI Labs

So once you narrowed down how to amplify the signal, building the technology into glasses was a no-brainer.

Actually, our research led to three substantially different technologies, all of which have medical applications:

A vein-finder, or oxygenation-isolator, that amplifies perception of oxygenation modulations under the skin (and eliminates perception of variations in the concentration of hemoglobin).

A trauma-detector, or hemoglobin-concentration-isolator, that amplifies perception of hemoglobin concentrations under the skin (and eliminates perception of variations in oxygenation).

And a general clinical enhancer, or oxygenation-amplifier, that combines the best features of the first two; it eliminates neither signal (i.e., it retains perception of both variation in Hemoglobin oxygenation and concentration), and only amplifies perception of oxygenation.

Who is the target consumer for the glasses?

The place we're headed first is medical markets. In a sense, what the technology does is make skin more transparent, thereby allowing one to see more directly into the conditions of the blood underneath--to see the veins, the vasculature, subtle erythema, symptoms of cyanosis, and so on. It's a capability our eyes already have to some extent, and medicine has relied upon it for millennia -- and to this day a good share of disease symptomatology mentions the pallor of skin. It has also long been noticed that colorblind doctors have a noticeable handicap, and in some countries you can't go to medical school if you're colorblind. Our technology harnesses and amplifies that natural gift.

There are other significant markets as well, including the security industry.

And, of course, there’s a big market out there for people who will simply want to detect the emotions of others, for whatever reason.

Yes, perhaps the most exciting market is the everyday-wear sunglasses market. Color vision is, after all, for everyday purposes. In particular it is a social sense, connecting us to those around us. When you put on shades, you severely dampen these social signals. But with our O2Amp technology in the shades, although the world overall is shaded, you maintain or even raise your ability to sense those around you.

For more information about O2Amp technology, visit Mark Changizi's blog.

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Posted on July 15, 2012 .