SenseCam is a wearable digital camera that is designed to take photographs passively, without user intervention, while it is being worn. Unlike a regular digital camera or a cameraphone, SenseCam does not have a viewfinder or a display that can be used to frame photos. Instead, it is fitted with a wide-angle (fish-eye) lens that maximizes its field-of-view. This ensures that nearly everything in the wearer’s view is captured by the camera, which is important because a regular wearable camera would likely produce many uninteresting images.

At first sight this product of research at Microsoft’s Cambridge Lab seems banal. But it seems to have a really intriguing application. As Tech Review reports:

When Mrs. B was admitted to the hospital in March 2002, her doctors diagnosed limbic encephalitis, a brain infection that left her autobiographical memory in tatters. As a result, she can only recall around 2 percent of events that happened the previous week, and she often forgets who people are. But a simple device called SenseCam, a small digital camera developed by Microsoft Research, in Cambridge, U.K., dramatically improved her memory: she could recall 80 percent of events six weeks after they happened, according to the results of a recent study.

“Not only does SenseCam allow people to recall memories while they are looking at the images, which in itself is wonderful, but after an initial period of consolidation, it appears to lead to long-term retention of memories over many months, without the need to view the images repeatedly,” says Emma Berry, a neuropsychologist who works as a consultant to Microsoft.

The device is worn around the neck and automatically takes a wide-angle, low-resolution photograph every 30 seconds. It contains an accelerometer to stabilize the image and reduce blurriness, and it can be configured to take pictures in response to changes in movement, temperature, or lighting. “Because it has a wide-angle lens, you don’t have to point it at anything–it just happens to capture pretty much everything that the wearer can see,” says Steve Hodges, the manager of the Sensor and Devices Group at Microsoft Research, U.K.

The camera stores VGA-quality images as compressed .jpg files. It can fit 30,000 images onto a 1GB flash card. And run them as crude movies which are obviously good enough to jog the memory.

Interesting illustration of the utility of photography.