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An interactive multi-display system that can tell when you're not paying attention to your computer screen or other operational displays has been developed by scientists at the University of St Andrews.

The researchers say the system could reduce workplace distractions, increase productivity and could even be of use in high-pressured environments such as flight control rooms.

The system, called 'Diff Displays', aims to prevent computer users from missing anything new on their screen. The system detects when its user is not looking at a display and replaces the regular screen image with a calm and non-distractive visualisation of the screen’s activity instead.

The system works via a camera mounted on top of each computer screen and uses computer vision algorithms to identify the user’s eyes. Once the eyes have been identified, the system can determine which screen in a bank of screens, for instance, they are looking at.

The system reduces distractions by fading out the parts of the screen that remain static and by subtly visualising changes in the display over time. When the user looks back at a display, the system quickly changes back from the visualisation to the actual screen content via different forms of animation.

The researchers believe the system would be useful in everyday work situations to reduce distractions and improve the quality of life of office workers. However, it may also be useful for those in high-pressure roles where they monitor a large number of screens, such as flight controllers or workers in nuclear power stations.

Doctoral student Jakub Dostal, who works under the guidance of Per Ola Kristensson and Aaron Quigley in the school of computer science, said: 'In a world where displays are starting to surround us and crave for our attention, technologies that focus on inattention become ever so important.'

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