The latest webcams allow us to record events in our lives in full high-definition video and to upload our creations to social media sites to share with the online world. Photo resolutions of 8 to 10 megapixels and built-in stereo microphones enhance these multi-media experiences, and software allows us to distort, adjust and play with the video and photo images. With webcam features now standard on laptops, notebooks and tablets, sending your message to the world has never been easier. But some people have taken the webcam beyond its usual uses of video chatting and video recording. Here's a look at four out-of-the-box uses for webcams.
Tracking eye movements
EyeTrackShop is a Swedish company that is using webcams to conduct eye-tracking studies for global market research studies. One tenth the cost of using dedicated eye tracking machines, their software uses inexpensive webcams to measure consumers' visual responses to print, internet and TV advertisements. To effectively use the billions of dollars spent annually on advertising, international companies, including Google and Proctor and Gamble, use this technology to find out the key visual stimulants that draw consumers' attention in their advertisements.
Inexpensive webcams, including those built into laptops and smartphones, are becoming important in the medical field. Ming-Zher Poh, a gradate student at Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, has developed a system that measures a person's heart rate through a webcam. This non-invasive technology doesn't need to be in contact with the person's skin, and produces accurate results that are comparable to those from an FDA-approved monitoring device. Poh plans to add the ability to monitor respiration and blood pressure and oxygen levels to the system.
Offsetting the trend to incorporate webcams into computers, a Japanese company produces a stand-alone webcam specifically for personal grooming. The Scaloupe is a webcam that looks like a cross between a computer mouse and a spaceship, that allows you to examine your scalp in high resolution. Connect the Scaloupe to your computer's USB port, run the camera over your head, and see enlarged, high-definition, close-up photos of your scalp on your computer monitor. The company offers no guidance on how to interpret these photos or what to do about whatever you find on your scalp, though they do have a video on their website about how to use the device. A companion technology is the Skin Magni-Checker, a hand-held webcam that allows you to see your skins' pores and flaws magnified on your computer monitor. Both personal grooming devices come with software that enables you to easily upload the photos to Twitter - should you want to.
The third dimension
3D: it's everywhere, even webcams. Released in 2009, the Minoru 3D Webcam looks like a cute little red-and-chrome alien with cameras for eyes. Adjusting its two cameras gives a 3D image that you view with cardboard red-and-cyan 3D glasses, five pairs of which are included with the webcam. This webcam produces a limited form of 3D that some reviewers have called "surprisingly good", yet this camera can be used as a regular 2D webcam as well. If you have the appropriate glasses, check out the sample 3D videos on the manufacturer's website.
If you're looking for a conventional webcam, check out our just updated report.