Subtle body language, a flicker of the eyes or a racing pulse — at any given moment we are giving off numerous covert signals that can silently betray exactly how we are feeling or what we are thinking without us even being aware of them ourselves.
Researchers at The University of Nottingham are using sophisticated technology to detect these secret, unseen cues to develop new technologies to enhance the way we work, rest and play.
The academics from the University’sDepartment of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering and Horizon Digital Economy Research have built a prototype Smart Chair that uses both off-the-shelf and specialist sensors to track the movements of the user.
The aim is to use this information to accurately estimate the user’s current state and to provide services which have been specifically tailored to meet their needs.
The technology could have numerous applications — from gaming technologies and interactive movie experiences to new in-car safety features and tools for research.
Dr Patrick Muratori, Research fellow at Horizon Digital Economy Research, said: “Human beings are very complex. The technology we are using is aimed at capturing the large amount of physical data from our bodies and translating it into useful information about how we might be reacting to the stimuli around us.”
Sensing the sitter
A range of sensors are distributed around the Smart Chair. The Phidget System is made up of a number of cells that detect the distribution of body weight in the seat area, while a Force Sensor Resistor (FSR) is placed in the headrest. The arm rests have both sensors and a buzzer which can be programmed to give feedback to the user.
The chair can be used in conjunction with a face reader, eye tracker and devices to measure heart rate and sweat output to assess whether we are happy, anxious, relaxed or paying attention.
The researchers are using the computing-based technique Fuzzy Logic to represent the data produced by the devices to ensure that they can predict how the user is feeling with a reliable degree of accuracy.
Once the technology has been refined it could have endless applications to enhance our modern lifestyles.
For example, it could be easily incorporated into current gaming chairs to enable them to sense a user’s reaction to a computer game and to tailor it for a truly personalised experience.
In cars the technology could be used to sense from a driver’s body language whether they are becoming tired and could trigger additional lighting or signals warning them to take a break.
Even viewers watching TV or movies streamed to their TV from mobile devices could benefit — the technology could sense enjoyment or disinterest and make recommendations for future viewing accordingly.
The project is part of a wider project on Affective Computing being led by Horizon Digital Economy Research.