Sensory Dimensions and AI: the story so far

Sensory Dimensions is a long-established consultancy specialising in the research and evaluation of new products and packaging, using expert sensory tasting panels and consumers. Our client base includes some of the most famous Fast Moving Consumer Goods companies around the world. We have state-of-the-art testing facilities at our HQ in Reading as well as in Nottingham.

Our attitude towards innovation is that new techniques and technology should provide better benefits for our operation and our customers. We rigorously test new innovations before selling them to our trusting clients. Often, a new ‘movement’ appears within our (market research) industry which is touted as the next ‘new shiny thing’ and claimed to be better than all that went before. Sometimes, these new approaches disappear as quickly as they appear whilst, occasionally, genuinely better/cheaper/faster client solutions are developed and retained.

SMEs need to make difficult choices as to whether to invest appropriate resources in new innovations with the hope of a sensible ROI. A company can get left behind if it ignores a genuine new area that clients can make good use of.

AI is now pretty much the most often talked about new movement in the insights and research industry. Those of us who have been in the industry since the 1980s remember approaches such as neural networks, arguably classified as AI. In fact, the evolution of AI points back way before the 1980s, as many people know.

Today, I think the best way to describe where we are with AI is that we are ‘dabbling’ where we know that there is real potential. A particular focus for us the evaluation of personal care products. Wet, foamy and busy hands make data entry onto paper or into a tablet or smartphone difficult at best. So, we are using smart speaker technology to collect data whilst consumers are using the products. We have also been investigating the ability of machine learning to predict sensory response to hair condition.

These two initiatives have been approached in very different ways. The latter was by supporting an academic establishment in their research paper. We supported the university by providing sensory resource and paper reviewing. Our learnings were that an academic institution, understandably, is looking for deep research learning and peer based advocation rather than developing a viable commercial solution ready to take to industry. There were interesting and potentially new benefits for our clients but there were more questions than answers derived from the research. Consequently, we have been thinking about how best to work with academic institutions in a more commercially focused ‘outcome’ based way.

We have started the use of voice technology by engaging with interested personal care clients who we can partner with to solve specific business problems. We met with companies in the voice technology space and chose 2 to partner with on 2 quite different ‘real’ projects. These projects are still in progress, but we are optimistic that new client benefits will be achieved with ultimate market success for them. Thereafter, we will be confident about proactively marketing these AI based solutions across our client base.

A third area is the much more established one of text analytics which uses AI to summarise answers to open ended questions such as ‘tell me why you said that?’ There are many excellent off-the shelf systems available for this now which offer huge time savings. Some are also adding emotion and sentiment analyses – with varying degrees of success!

In summary, we are edging forward on our AI journey, with increasing optimism for commercial success for all parties involved. We are also very open-minded to approaches from AI expert companies if they believe that they can offer us better or new commercial solutions for our clients.

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26th -27th June 2021

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Applied AI is Tech Nation’s first growth programme for Artificial Intelligence to help the UK’s most promising founders who are applying AI in practical areas and creating real-world impact. The programme is based on peer-to-peer support and the shared experience of later-stage founders, all curated under the values of honesty, intimacy and trust.

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