Skip to main content

An app uses your smartphone camera to tell if you’re alert at work

In the boring old days, our smartphone cameras just took pictures. Then they started letting us confirm our identity, through tools like Apple’s Face ID. Soon, they could help track your alertness as well.

At least, that’s the basis for a new research project coming out of Cornell University. Researchers there have developed a tool which uses a smartphone camera to keep tabs on alertness at work — by measuring the size of your pupils each time you unlock your phone. It can do this because people’s pupils change size over the course of the day. When individuals are alert, the sympathetic nervous system makes their pupils dilate in order that they can take in information more easily. When they’re tired, the parasympathetic nervous system causes the pupils to contract. Since all of us look at our phones at work (don’t pretend this doesn’t include you!), developing an alertness measurement tool for this device makes perfect sense.

“The goal of this technology is to explore a new way in which we can measure people’s level of alertness in an unobtrusiveness and naturalistic way, in particular at the moments when people interact with their mobile devices,” Vincent Tseng, a Ph.D. student in Cornell’s Department of Information Science, told Digital Trends. “Essentially, the app takes a burst of images when people unlock their phone. [It additionally] collects other passive sensor data that also affect people’s alertness or pupil size, such as environmental light intensity. With all these passively collected sensor data, the application uses machine learning to predict how alert the user is, [which helps reveal their] reaction time.”

Sure, the idea of your boss receiving a notification to say your work smartphone has revealed that you’re not paying attention is kind of dystopian. But there are potential applications for this technology that would be genuinely helpful — and maybe even life-saving. For instance, clinicians typically look at devices (hopefully not their personal smartphones) during surgery. A front-facing camera on these devices could help track their alertness throughout procedures, which can take multiple hours to complete in some cases. Should the app detect a surgeon’s level of alertness to be plummeting, it could trigger an intervention that lets another person step in or the operator to take a short break.

“Our ultimate goal is to better understand how our productivity and performance fluctuate throughout the day,” Tseng continued. “By knowing how … different processes change throughout the day, we may have a better picture of when are the optimal times for us to focus and accomplish important tasks.”

A paper describing this project was recently presented at the International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
What to do if your Amazon Alexa app is not working
Alexa app on phone.

Amazon Alexa might be one of the most popular smart assistants, but it’s not without a few flaws. For instance, some users have experienced crashes while using the Amazon Alexa app -- and others have found the app to be entirely unresponsive when trying to control their Amazon Echo devices.

Issues like this are typically picked up on by Amazon and immediately fixed with a patch, but sometimes there’s an issue on the user’s end that needs to be remedied before things start functioning as intended. If your Amazon Alexa app is not working or responding, here are a few ways to fix it.
Check for a software update

Read more
If you use this free password manager, your passwords might be at risk
Office computer with login asking for password and username.

Researchers have just found a flaw within Bitwarden, a popular password manager. If exploited, the bug could give hackers access to login credentials, compromising various accounts.

The flaw within Bitwarden was spotted by Flashpoint, a security analysis firm. While the issue hasn't received much -- or any -- coverage in the past, it appears that Bitwarden was aware of it all along. Here's how it works.

Read more
How your smartphone could replace a professional camera in 2023
A close up of the Tecno Phantom X2 Pro's camera.

The steady decline in digital camera sales is barely a mystery. Mobile phones have largely replaced point-and-shoot cameras and are now coming after more expensive and professional-grade equipment. 2023 is set to witness various emerging trends that could result in mobile phones replacing DSLR cameras.

While hardware is at the forefront of this transition, we also expect advancements in computational photography and videography, along with reliance on machine learning tools. Here are the top reasons why camera brands need to acknowledge and be wary of smartphone cameras.
1-inch sensors are becoming mainstream

Read more