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Now, a computer that reveals emotions

A hand-held computer that could pick up on people's emotions is being developed to help autistic people.

india Updated: Mar 31, 2006 21:05 IST

A hand-held computer that can pick up on people's emotions is being developed to help people with autism relate to those around them. If the wearer fails to generate the listener’s interest in his conversation, the computer vibrates.

This would alert the autistic user, as the person they are conversing starts showing signs of getting bored or annoyed.

An autistic person lacks the ability to pick up on social cues. Rana El Kaliouby of the Media Lab at the MIT says that these type of people fail to notice that they are boring and confusing, their listeners which could turnout to be very damaging. "It's sad because people then avoid having conversations with them," he said.

El Kaliouby is constructing the device along with MIT colleagues Rosalind Picard and Alea Teeters. The device consists of a camera small enough to be pinned to the side of a pair of glasses, connected to a hand-held computer running image recognition software plus software that can read the emotions these images show.

If the wearer seems to be failing to engage his or her listener, the software makes the hand-held computer vibrate.

The device demonstrated could detect whether someone is agreeing, disagreeing, concentrating, thinking, unsure or interested, just from a few seconds of video footage. Previous computer programmes have only detected the six more basic emotional states of happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust.

El Kaliouby's is designed to convey results in a sequence of movements rather than a single expression. The software picks out movements of the eyebrows, lips and nose, and tracks head movements such as tilting, nodding and shaking, which it then associates with the emotion the actor was showing.

The team will present the device next week at the Body Sensor Network conference at MIT. People with autism are not the only ones who stand to benefit.

Timothy Bickmore of Northeastern University in Boston, who studies ways in which computers can be made to engage with people's emotions, says the device would be a great teaching aid.

"I would love it if you could have a computer looking at each student in the room to tell me when 20 per cent of them were bored or confused,” New Scientist quoted him as saying.