Man holding iPhone infront of forest

Researchers create smartphone tool to track alertness at work

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Cornell University researchers have developed a tool that tracks alertness using a smartphone, by measuring pupil size through a burst of photographs taken every time a user unlocks their device.

Previous research has shown that our level of alertness rises and falls throughout the course of a work day, sometimes causing our energy to drop and minds to wonder just as we need to perform important tasks.

Vincent WS Tseng, a doctoral student in information science at the New York-based university said: “Since our alertness fluctuates, if we can find a pattern, it will be very useful to manage and schedule our day.”

There have been traditional methods of analysing alertness, including devices that must be worn. However, such methods have been proved to be inefficient.

Researchers in Cornell’s People-Aware Computing Lab, run by Tanzeem Choudhury, associate professor of information science, intended to create a way to measure alertness unobtrusively and continuously.

“Since people use their phones very frequently during the day, we were thinking we could use phones as an instrument to understand and measure their alertness,” Tseng said, "And since people's eyes are affected by their alertness, we were thinking that when people are looking at their phones, we could use a moment to measure their alertness at that point.”

Studies found that when people are alert, the sympathetic nervous system causes their pupils to dilate, making it easier to take in information. However, when drowsy, the parasympathetic nervous system causes the pupils to contract.

Tseng said the AlertnessScanner could be particularly useful in healthcare, since medical professionals often work long hours doing intricate and important work. For example, clinicians typically look at devices during surgery, and a front-facing camera on the devices could track their alertness throughout procedures.

“But understanding alertness patterns could be helpful to people in many kinds of workplaces,” Tseng said.

“If you want to get something very important done, then probably you should execute this task while you're at the peak of your alertness; when you're in a valley of your alertness, you can do something like rote work,” he said, “You'll also know the best time to take a break to allow your alertness or energy to go back up again.”

The study 'AlertnessScanner: What Do Your Pupils Tell About Your Alertness', was presented at the 20th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services.

In August, a study from Tel Aviv University (TAU) suggested smartphone sensors could be used to improve weather predictions and protect residents from floods.

June saw the development of a military smartphone communication app loaded onto Samsung phones, known as the Dismounted Situational Awareness Tool, that has been labelled as a “game changer” by a senior officer. 

Earlier this April, Huawei unveiled its P20 Pro Pro smartphone which has 48 cameras and a ‘smudged’ design, with each camera is equipped with its own triple laser system to enable accurate focusing and distance detection.

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