"You can tell if someone is just drinking coffee all the time and not working," Shah says, "or if a suspicious person enters the office and is working at someone else's computer." The system uses a digital video camera to watch an office, and it can do real-time image recognition and tracking of what's happening. It can follow people around the office and tell when they pick something up, use a phone, or type at a computer. Other variants of the system could watch an assembly process--say, putting together burgers at a fast-food joint--and monitor workers to make sure they get all the ingredients right.
Don't be worried about losing your nap time just yet--Shah says it will take five to 10 years before the system is sophisticated enough to process the countless complex behaviors of a real-world office. But less complex, process-oriented systems such as the burger-monitor should be available within a year or so.
And the system has many other potential applications that could make our lives better. Cameras installed in cars can monitor a driver's alertness by watching eye motion, head tilt, and movement. Shah's lab is also working with the Florida Department of Transportation to develop a system that will watch railway crossings and make sure the gates are closed and cars are out of the way before trains pass through.