On the Internet at home? Big Teddy is watching you

Hidden cameras around the house will monitor reactions to new technology. By Esther Leach
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MINIATURE cameras secreted in cocoa tins and teddy bears around the home are to be used to investigate people's true reaction to new technology.

They will silently tape the behaviour of children towards home computers, recording how often they are used and why they are used.

The cameras will also record the influence of the Internet on everyday life as well as the usefulness of such technologies as e-mail or home banking.

Sixteen families around the country who are already using new technology at home will be monitored over the next two years in the pounds 180,000 programme, which will be funded by an award from the Economic and Social Research Council.

Doctor David Morrison, research director at the Institute of Communication Studies at Leeds University, who is heading the project, said using cocoa tins and teddy bears, as well as other household objects, to hide the cameras was something they had developed to ensure more natural reactions.

He added the families would have complete control over the tapes. Anything they did not want viewed could be wiped.

"The families would always be aware they are being filmed but the cameras would not be intrusive. Each family will have a camera for a total of four weeks and the filming will be followed up with its views.

"We hope by hiding the cameras in fluffy toys, cocoa tins, vases and other everyday household objects, the routine of everyday living will take over and families will behave less self-consciously.

"It's the first time anyone has taken a look in a naturalistic way at how people interact with new technology and how people interact through new technology with each other.

"We all expect technology to open up a new world to us but maybe it won't. The social history of the telephone, for example, shows that it has consolidated our friendships and relationships rather than help to expand our circle of friends.

"We expect to discover, for example, if the authority of a young person increases within the family because they are a whizzkid on the computer."

The information they glean, Doctor Morrison added, would contribute to the new technology debate and could also reap benefits for industry and commerce.

"Watching the way people view technology can help industry design better, more efficient, more user-friendly equipment. And commerce would have a better idea of what people wanted and what they could be selling."

n A new computer system being developed by universities in Leeds and Reading will detect unusual behaviour in a car park. If somebody loiters too long or moves from car to car suspiciously an alarm will alert security guards.

Professor David Hogg of the School of Computer Studies at Leeds said the computer would take the drudgery out of monitoring car parks. He added: "By observing car parks over a long period of time we have built up models of typical behaviour . So if somebody does something atypical an alarm will sound."

The technology is about three years away from practical use.