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Better Get To Work, Your Computer Could Be Watching

Software that can track and record employees' actions on the job is being developed.
Your days of doodling, dozing, and playing Minesweeper may be nearing an end. Mubarak Shah, a professor of computer science and director of the Computer Vision Lab at the University of Central Florida, is developing software that can track and record what employees are doing while they work.

"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.