Sensor Monitors Kids’ Screen Time

Do you know how much time your kids spent in front of a screen this weekend? Maybe one wrote a paper and the other saw a movie at the theater. Don’t forget the games on the tablet and the television shows. Oh, and the video chat with the grandparents. And social media on the phone while they were waiting for you. And the screens in the background that seem to be everywhere.

We’re woefully inaccurate at tracking such things. The older our kids get, the harder it is to keep tabs. And chances are, they don’t have a good barometer for it either. Yet self-reporting, despite its unreliability, is the main tool researchers use to gather data about screen time habits.

To address that problem, scientists at MIT have developed a new wearable tool to automate the tracking of screen time. The team, led by Richard Fletcher at the MITD-Lab, presented the wristband device last month at the IEEE Wireless Health conference hosted by the National Institutes of Health.

To develop the tool, the researchers took an off-the-shelf color sensor commonly used within televisions and other screens to calibrate color and brightness, and applied a learning algorithm that enabled them to figure out how to use that color data to determine when a screen was nearby. Light from screens tends to be dynamic, and the balance of colors is different than that typical of incandescent and fluorescent lighting. Using those signatures, the algorithm distinguishes screen light from ambient light. The off-the-shelf sensor component is sold by Hamamatsu.

MIT’s device will be used by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in an upcoming clinical study on how children’s behavior contributes to high blood pressure, diabetes,…[Read more]