New smartphone tool can track your alertness at work

PTI New York | Updated on October 21, 2018 Published on October 21, 2018

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Scientists have developed a smartphone tool that can track a person’s alertness at work and identify when one is most productive. The tool called AlertnessScanner developed by researchers at Cornell University in the US measures pupil size, captured through a burst of photographs taken every time users unlock their smartphones.

“Since our alertness fluctuates, if we can find a pattern it will be very useful to manage and schedule our day,” said Vincent W S Tseng, a doctoral student at Cornell.

Traditional methods of analysing alertness tend to be cumbersome, often including devices that must be worn.

Alertness measuring

Researchers wanted to create a way to measure alertness unobtrusively and continuously.

“Since people use their phones very frequently during the day, we were thinking we could use phones as an instrument to understand and measure their alertness,” Tseng said.

“And since people’s eyes are affected by their alertness, we were thinking that when people are looking at their phones, we could use a moment to measure their alertness at that point,” he said.


When people are alert, the sympathetic nervous system causes the pupils to dilate to make it easier to take in information. When they are drowsy, the parasympathetic nervous system causes the pupils to contract.

The tool could be particularly useful in health care, since medical professionals often work long hours doing intricate and important work.

For example, clinicians typically look at devices during surgery, and a front-facing camera on the devices could track their alertness throughout procedures.

Understanding alertness patterns could be helpful to people in many kinds of workplaces, Tseng said.

“If you want to get something very important done, then probably you should execute this task while you’re at the peak of your alertness; when you’re in a valley of your alertness, you can do something like rote work,” he said.

“You’ll also know the best time to take a break in order to allow your alertness or energy to go back up again,” he said.

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Published on October 21, 2018
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