Microsoft fits humans with blackbox recorders

Microsoft Research has developed a blackbox recorder for human beings that it’s calling SenseCam.

As we were shown during a visit to Microsoft Research in Cambridge, SenseCam is a small camera – about twice the size of a box of matches – which is intended to be worn around the neck of at-risk people and those with health issues.

The camera is fitted with a wide-angle, fish-eye lens that automatically takes low resolution pictures every 30 seconds. Alongside this, SenseCam is also kitted out with a host of environmental sensors – including infrared, light, heat, heart rate and pressure – allowing it to record a variety of environmental data.

The applications for SenseCam are myriad, but Microsoft has initially been trialling it with limbic encephalitis sufferers with severe short-term memory difficulties.

“We’ve people who can’t remember what happened three to five days ago, which is incredibly frustrating for them and their families,” says Microsoft researcher Steve Hodges.

“The SenseCam passively records their day. They review the footage and that sparks autobiographical recollection. So, we get people saying ‘that person was really rude to me’ or ‘I remember seeing that church in the distance’. It’s waking those split second inner thoughts they’ve haven’t been able to grab hold of that’s the key to holding on to the memories in the long term.”

The camera can record up to 2,000 images a day on 1GB of internal storage and can run for two days between charges.

Among other potential applications, Hodges envisions the SenseCam being worn in the same way as a rape alarm by nurses working in the community, giving police extra evidence if a crime is committed.

On a lighter note, he also sees teenagers wearing the cameras on nights out, and then uploading the photos en masse to Facebook.

Also on display at Microsoft Research was the Wayve, a messaging tool for the home and Somniloquy, a device which allows PCs to retain a presence on networks even in sleep mode.

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