New Tool Uses Your Smartphone Camera to Track Your Alertness at Work

Productivity is directly linked to mental alertness. Unfortunately, our alertness has a tendency to fluctuate. Sometimes hitting so low that we begin to wander, or sleep during working hours.

Now, to help master these patterns and improve productivity a team of researchers in collaboration with Cornell University has developed an eye-focused monitoring tool that tracks alertness. It does this by analyzing the pupil’s size, from bursts of photographs captured every time users pick up their smartphone.

Could this Help Our Procrastination?


Well, at times it’s not that we are being lazy on purpose, it’s the “software” in our brain that can’t concentrate on a task. In fact, some mistakes that come up when executing an important task could be avoided, if you did the job when the mind was more alert.

“For surgeons and other people who handle super important tasks, this new technology can help them better schedule and prioritize tasks,” said the lead author of “AlertnessScanner’ Vincent W.S. Tseng, a doctoral student in information science. The team behind this research presented their work at the 20th international Conference.

Current Methods of Monitoring Alertness


The concept is nothing new because already we have some technologies trying to achieve the same goal. The most spoken about being the AI system that was recently created to help drivers stay more alert on the road. We also have wearable devices that can track mental cognizance. However, all these methods are somewhat cumbersome, in that you must either wear or install the device to track you – in case you forget to put it on, that day you’ll be off order.

So to counter such limitations, researchers working at Cornell’s People-Aware Computing Lab wanted to create a better way to measure alertness, continuously and unobtrusively.

The Tool On a Smartphone


“We took the advantage that phones have become our greatest friend in this age and that we use it frequently over the course of a workday. As in, we thought it provides the most effective interface to help monitor alertness,” said Tseng.

Previous findings have established that mental alertness has a direct connection to how the human eye behaves. “So we thought it would be easier to track those specific characteristic changes in the eye to measure a person’s alertness level at that point.

In particular, the sympathetic nervous system behind our eyes causes the pupil to dilate, thereby easing things for them to absorb information. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system would signal the pupils to contract when the eyes become drowsy.

More Evidence and Application

Assistant professor Saeed Abdullah of Pennsylvania State University, College of Information Science Technology, and Jean Costa a doctoral student at Cornell did separate studies two years ago, which confirmed that indeed pupil scanning can predict alertness.

With such pieces of evidence, the researchers believe their invention, what they call AlertnessScanner would be particularly handy in fields requiring clarity of mind when handling tasks. In that case, medical professionals stand the first chance to benefit from this, since they work long hours, handling intricate and super important work. The technology can be fitted in labs to monitor the alertness status of surgeons throughout procedures using a front-facing camera.

Besides that, individuals can use the technology to help master their alertness patterns, so they can prioritize tasks. “Important things in your to-do list can be handled at the peak of alertness, while rote work can be done during ‘low hours’, depending on how the system will rate the user’s ability to focus at that particular time.”

Top on that, mastering these patterns would help users to know when to take breaks to allow room for a natural recharge of the mental alertness.