Boffins at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits in Erlangen have demonstrated a rapid facial analysis system that can gauge emotional reactions.
Researchers speaking at the CeBIT show in Hanover said that, with the help of a small camera and some highly complex algorithms, the system can localise human faces, differentiate between genders and analyse expressions.
"The special feature of our facial analysis software is that it operates in real time," said Christian Kublebeck, project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute. "It is also able to localise and analyse a large number of faces simultaneously."
The real-time image indicates how angry, happy, sad or surprised the subject appears to be, helping to mitigate the problem of ambiguous responses.
The software has to go through a training phase during which it is presented with huge quantities of data containing images of faces.
Once trained, the program can compare around 30,000 facial characteristics based on what it has 'learned'.
Kublebeck explained that the system works by studying the contours of the face, the eyes, eyebrows and the nose, and that the calculations are carried out so quickly that changes in facial expression can be tracked live.
The system is being demonstrated at CeBIT by gauging the reactions of passing attendees to several posters advertising items like perfume. But Kublebeck reckons that the system has a lot of potential uses outside marketing.
It could be adapted to test the user friendliness of computer software in development by gauging which aspects of the program arouse a particularly strong response.
The system could also be integrated into vehicles to monitor the concentration levels of drivers, or embedded into learning software to es tablish the stress levels experienced by users performing specific tasks.
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