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SenseCam, a hardware research project developed at Microsoft's Cambridge labs, may find a use in the treatment patient suffering from short-term memory loss.

This summer, the Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge, is planning to test the device as a complement to exsiting therapies for patients with short term memory problems, caused by Alzheimer's, or head injuries, for example.

Dr. Narinder Kapur, a specialist at the hospital, said the SenseCam research project "could provide certain patients, suffering from memory loss, with the ability to keep a visual diary of their memories and, potentially, improve their quality of life".

Lyndsay Williams, the lead researcher on the project, explained that patients currently keep a written diary in real time which helps them keep track of their movements and actions. However, many patients, particularly children, find it very tiring, she said.

SenseCam is worn around the neck. Its on-board, wide angle (132 degrees) camera is activated by movement and changing light levels and so captures a photographic record of the wearer's day. Williams describes it as a kind of human black box data recorder. The result is a stream of data from your day, which you can review as pictures at high speed, or track through the sensor logs. Very Star Trek.

The box includes IR sensors, so that the camera is activate dby the presence of another person, or animal, as well as light and motion detectors. It has 128MB of memory for pictures and 16MB for the sensor data.

If you are having trouble picturing yourself using this, don't worry -it's not likely to be for sale in PC World any time soon. Williams says that SensecCam is a pure research effort, although she can see several applications beyond its potential as a memory prosthesis.

"It could be used in tourism, as a personal diary - a kind of visual blog. It could also be, potentially, useful to firefighters as a way of retracing their steps out of a building, for instance."

The prototype is currently a similar size to many entry-level digital cameras. Williams is confident she can shrink it to around a quarter of its current size with no difficulty. "Most of it is taken up by the double A batteries at the moment," she said. ®

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