Microsoft and DCU in Alzheimer’s R&D venture


21 Feb 2006

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Software industry giant Microsoft has teamed up with a research team at Dublin City University (DCU) to jointly develop tiny cameras that can record a searchable digital picture diary of your entire day. It is envisaged the resulting technology could be an important aid for Alzheimer’s patients.

Microsoft Research in Seattle has created a ‘SenseCam’ — a tiny camera combined with an ‘accelerometer’, a device that makes the camera aware of a person’s movements. These micro-cameras can be designed into jewellery, buttons or broaches to be unobtrusive or hidden.

The micro-camera takes up to 3,000 digital pictures a day and is activated by the movement and activity of the wearer as well as the changing surroundings. DCU’s image and video search technology can then be used to analyse the 3,000 pictures and to isolate the highlights of the day.

This project is part of a larger programme at Microsoft Research to record people’s ‘life logs’. The technology can be used to provide a digital image record of each day in the life, similar to a picture diary, using the SenseCam. The work of the Adaptive Information Cluster (AIC) group at DCU is to identify the highlights or most important or memorable parts of the day’s activity.

An important practical application of the research is for Alzheimer’s patients. With a SenseCam ‘day in the life’ diary, patients who may not be able to recall where they were or what they did will have an accurate record to consult.

DCU’s professor of computing Alan Smeaton is leading the research. He explained: “We are very excited about this technology and about what it might offer for Alzheimer’s sufferers, their families and carers. It may also be used to track the development of the condition.”

There are also many other applications which could be developed for this technology. For example, the SenseCam could provide the solution for those days when you just cannot remember where you left your car keys, glasses or wallet!

Prof Smeaton said that within a year he expects the research to be able to demonstrate some of these ideas in prototype applications which he hopes are then taken up into products.

The AIC was established two years ago and is funded by Science Foundation Ireland. It is a multi-disciplinary research group involving leading researchers from DCU and University College Dublin working in sensor science, software engineering, electronic engineering and computer science.

By John Kennedy