A new lie detector: A camera that reads…emotions?

Sometime in mid-2011, an article in BBC News reported the existence of an “emotion detector” which was designed to pinpoint potential liars. The specially designed camera system of the emotion detector operates based on the premise that human faces reveal a startling range of emotions. And these emotions can be captured by a thermal sensor that is sensitive enough to detect minute changes in the blood vessels.


The fully computerized emotion detector system consists of a simple video camera, a high-resolution thermal imaging sensor, and a set of algorithms to interpret the thermal readings.

The lie detection tool was unveiled on September 13, 2011 at the British Science Festival in Bradford, UK.


Since this new emotion detector is not as invasive as a polygraph interrogation, it can be used discreetly by many security companies. It can readily serve as a computerized window to evaluate the presence of strong emotions such as fear, distress, or distrust.


When it was tested by Professor Hassan Ugail of Bradford University, the emotion detector system was able to successfully tell the lies from the truth in almost two-thirds of the cases.


What’s great about the development and testing of this device is that the researchers themselves acknowledge that it can never be accurate. What the camera and the thermal sensor detect is only the range of emotions on a person’s face and not the act of lying itself.


The flow of blood to a person’s face unconsciously and involuntarily displays the barely noticeable changes of expression. Every eye movement, dilated pupil, wrinkling of the nose, pressing of the lips, swallowing, breathing heavily, facial asymmetry, and blinking is seen by the camera system and is relayed to the thermal imaging unit. The swelling of the blood vessels around the eye area, in particular, characterizes the physiological response of someone who is suppressing very strong emotions.


It may not be as conclusive as a brain-scan lie detector, but it can be handy in a situation where there is a need to passively scan a large crowd for possible suspicious behavior.


Jillian Hayes (aka ATLCanongirl)


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