Anti-Distraction Technology

By: Jonathan Farache

With a technological world breathing down our necks at all times, it is often easy to get distracted by all the perks that ‘live feed’ offers. Whether it’s a small Facebook update, an incoming email, more pertinent stock quotes or headlines, seemingly everything is liable to get us out of focus. The biggest problem is that getting distracted is completely natural. Our curiosity and inclination to know and be up to date is too overbearing, making this instinct very hard to fight. Thankfully, some clever computer vision application in Scotland’s St. Andrew’s University may be on the way to help counterbalance the negative side-effects our multi-tasking infatuation.

A program called “Diff Displays” aims to help users interacting with multiple computer monitors focus on the one they are meant to be looking at. A small camera is mounted on top each of the monitors, and these cameras track the trajectory of the user’s eyesight to see which monitor is actively being looked at. Once the program recognizes which monitor is in primary focus, the other screens get dimmed to a greyish hue. Accordingly, when a user shifts his or her gaze to a dimmed out screen, it brightens back up as the other ‘less important’ ones get dimmed down. An added feature allows changes on the dimmed out screens to be tracked or highlighted so that important information is not altogether forgone.

Taking a look at the technology in Diff Displays, we find that an impressive feat is at play here. This level of computer vision application is so refined that it hones in on the minimal movements of a person’s eyes. That a standard webcam can pick up on these incremental changes merely through programming (as opposed to intricate hardware) is reassuring about the future outlook of these advancements. Right now Diff Displays works on making multi-monitor handling more productive, but a small leap could allow the program to focus on a window within a screen. If everything outside of this document were dimmed out, this article would probably have been finished quite a while ago.

Diff Display is currently looking at installing these systems in activity-intensive environments where prioritizing focus is crucial. Such places as nuclear power plants and air-traffic control rooms tend to have several important data streams going on simultaneously, while the operator need only focus on one at a time. Getting distracted in these situations is not only unproductive, but potentially dangerous as well. Thus a small breakthrough in ‘anti-distraction’ technology is more than welcome in our ever up-beat and vibrant world, and we have Diff Display to thank for that.

Jonathan Farache is a contributing writer for Computer Vision Online.

Image credit: University of St Andrews Computer Human Interaction Research Group

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