A camera you can wear as a pendant to record every moment of your life will soon be launched by a UK-based firm.
Originally invented to help jog the memories of people with Alzheimer's disease, it might one day be used by consumers to create "lifelogs" that archive their entire lives.
Worn on a cord around the neck, the camera takes pictures automatically as often as once every 30 seconds. It also uses an accelerometer and light sensors to snap an image when a person enters a new environment, and an infrared sensor to take one when it detects the body heat of a person in front of the wearer. It can fit 30,000 images onto its 1-gigabyte memory.
The ViconRevue was originally developed as the SenseCam by Microsoft Research Cambridge, UK, for researchers studying Alzheimer's and other dementias. Studies showed that reviewing the events of the day using SenseCam photos could help some people improve long-term recall.
Now Vicon, based in Oxford, UK, which specialises in motion-capture technology for the movie industry, has licensed the technology for the camera from Microsoft and intends to put it into large-scale production.
Imogen Moorhouse, Vicon's managing director, says that Microsoft has licensed the technology because it can't keep up with demand for the gadget. So far, only 500 have been made, most for use by researchers.
Vicon's version will retail for £500 (about $820) and will also be marketed to researchers at first; it will go on sale in the next few months. A consumer version should be released in 2010.
The gadget will be launched at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago this weekend, in conjunction with a conference on research using SenseCam so far.
A study published earlier this year described how SenseCam helped a person who had suffered encephalitis that permanently affected their ability to recall recent events. After reviewing SenseCam photos of a significant event every two days for three weeks, the person could remember it substantially better, even after months of not looking at the photos, compared with events that were not reviewed this way or were recorded only in a written diary.
For consumers, the gadget will provide an easy way to become a "lifelogger" – someone who attempts to electronically record as much of their life as possible. Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell has made his life an experiment in lifelogging, recording everything from phone calls to TV viewing, and uses a SenseCam wherever he goes.
"What's great about these kinds of memory technologies is that they can be very usable for ordinary people," says Henry Kautz, a computer scientist at the University of Rochester, New York, who works on technology to assist cognition.
"Once you have that mass market, that brings the prices down." Eventually, he says, a SenseCam-like device could be part of an artificial memory used by ordinary people, just as they use notebooks and planners as memory aids today.