NEW YORK — When you converse with someone via webcam, you can probably determine his or her age, sex and level of engagement pretty accurately, even if you've never met before. Now, a new piece of software, called 'Cara,' allows almost any webcam to do the same thing.
Cara comes from IMRSV, a New York-based startup, and doesn't require much power to run. Any computer with an Intel Duo Core processor and any webcam with a resolution of at least 640 x 480 pixels (nearly all modern computers and webcams meet or exceed these requirements) can run the software, which takes only seconds to identify a subject's most salient features.
Jason Sosa, IMRSV's founder, demoed Cara at the NY Tech Meetup, held here in New York on May 7. He stood in front of a crowded theater, pointed his laptop's built-in webcam toward his face, and explained each feature. A blue circle appeared around Jason's face, indicating male gender. It pegged him as a "young adult" and monitored how much time he spent looking at the camera and how many times he turned his attention elsewhere.
Cara scans a number of facial features and runs algorithms to determine age (with 93 percent accuracy) and sex (with 92 percent accuracy). Sex is binary (although transgendered subjects could feasibly throw the system for a loop), and age contains four categories: child (0-13), young adult (14-35), adult (35-65) and senior (65+).
The software can function at distances of up to 25 feet (with a good enough webcam and ample light), and can identify multiple subjects simultaneously. Cara also collects data — for instance, how long a person spends facing the camera, how many times he or she glances away and how many people pass by without looking.
Although Cara could theoretically build up a suite of security features, IMRSV is not interested in taking the software in that direction. Cara cannot identify individual people or record images or video (it compiles data and saves it in spreadsheets and charts instead). Instead, it envisions Cara as a business tool, especially for retail applications and audience analysis. [See also: Top 10 Life-Changing Inventions ]
One idea Sosa pitched was to set up webcams in retail shops. Running Cara at promotional displays will give managers a good idea of which displays are popular with certain demographics. At the register, Cara can compile data about who does most of the buying. Analyzing these data could aid shops in more efficiently promoting their goods and helping customers find what they're looking for.
At $40 per camera per month, Cara can be a pricey investment, but most users interested in the service probably already have the hardware they need to run it. If all goes well, they can use Cara to earn back that $40, and more.
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