SenseCam - the Black Box Flight Recorder for human beings
By Mike Hanlon
June 4, 2004
The SenseCam is a badge-sized wearable visual diary that captures up to 2000 VGA images per day into FLASH memory, offering a continually building repository of information on what you have done during the day in visual form. In addition, sensor data such as movement, light level and temperature is continuously monitored and any sudden changes in any of the above triggers the camera.
For example, each time the sensecam wearer walks into a new room, the light change is detected and the image is captured with an ultra wide angle or fish-eye lens. Other triggers currently being used to tell the Sensecam to take a snap include, time, sudden movement, or a person nearby. A hand gesture can also manually capture an image. There are plans for Sensecam to capture additional data in future based on other logical triggers - monitoring heart rate, for example, might lead to images being captured at appropriate times. Indeed, pictures taken when the heart suddenly leaps might lead to greater understanding of ones self and one's motivations. With Global Positioning Systems getting smaller, there's even the possibility that we might at some point monitor our every movement for future recall - perhaps not necessary at the supermarket you know well, but invaluable in reviewing your visit to a trade show where you have promised 50 people you would follow-up in 50 different conversations. When you think about it, there are myriad circumstance where doing a 'rewind' of the day's events might be invaluable.
Ingeniously, an accelerometer has been used for image stabilisation to reduce blurred images caused by camera motion. Researchers have found this is an essential feature of any truly wearable camera.
There are many ways in which the Sensecam is already proving useful to those who are developing it. Well, it might be used to capture lecture notes from the blackboard, or the plan for world domination you hatched over lunch on a table napkin, or to show a loved one the jacket you saw in the window of a department store at lunchtime, or recall the brand of the wine you enjoyed so much at dinner three weeks ago, or where you left your glasses or car keys - if the data Sensecam collects is easily searchable, then it has many applications as an aid to memory, something which is clearly in need of some assistance the older one gets.
Then there are times when your memory gets hazy due to stress - an accident or depending on your job, your actions in a combat zone, or in a burning building or a car accident - anywhere where it'd be instructive to be able to rewind the events with some sort of frame of reference based in reality, not the vagaries of the memory.
This leads to an interesting conundrum. While the Sensecam will be invaluable to the individual, once the data is recorded, who will have access to it. Will the individual make the information available to medical authorities in the case of an accident, and how will this be signified?
Does the individual own the information, or can it be used against the individual too - can it be used by an insurance company or police or another individual to the detriment of the wearer.
This is an area which will probably gain some sense of order prior to the Sensecam finding its way to market, as similar data such as GPS position and speed is already being recorded in the black boxes of expensive automobiles and there will surely be some landmark legal cases in the next few years as this information is given some legal status in different jurisdictions.
We've already witnessed the popularity of reality television and individuals documenting every aspect of their lives on the internet - the Sensecam could play a role in this continuing trend. While many people will use the Sensecam as an aid to organising and controlling their lives more efficiently, there will undoubtendly be others who will use the Sensecam as for automatic diary generation and the publishing of this data.
The sensor data (motion, light, temperature, and passive infrared) is recorded for later correlation with other user data, for example in the MyLifeBits system.
The SenseCam is a research prototype and not a product yet. While the Microsoft research depetment running the project out of Cambridge in the UK is clear that it has no spare prototypes available at present, the majority of the hardware used in Sensecam is already available in mobile telephones, and it's only a matter of time before individuals begin selling the software to create your own version of the Sensecam, or incorporating these ideas into jewellery, glasses and other wearables.