Walking through what could have been mistaken for a door into a boiler room in Expedia’s modern London offices in Angel, you wouldn’t think you were entering a hub where analysts are developing the future look of one of the world’s biggest travel website.
After brushing away a curtain, you appear in a darkened room kitted-out with multi-screen computers displaying the live results of facial recognition technology, known as electromyography (EMG).
A test-dummy – who is paid, but by an outside agency, not Expedia – arrives and takes a seat.
She’s talked through proceedings by user experience research manager Roseann Ferrara, who attaches sensors to her cheeks and eyebrows as we sit on the other side of a glass window.
Eyebrow movements, we’re told, show when someone is either focussing or frustrated. Cheeks are a person’s “happy” or “delight muscle”.
To test if it’s working, the subject is asked whether they prefer cats or dogs and is shown pictures of their favourite animal.
When the subject begins browsing through Expedia and other sites looking for places to stay in Porto Alegre in Brazil (she’s already bought flights there), we see two bars akin to what you might see measuring a heart rate in a hospital start to twitch.
Green measures the cheek movements while red measures the eyebrows. Meanwhile, an orange dot tracks which part of the screen the user is looking at