Have you ever wished you could gauge how happy the passengers are on a jam-packed MBTA car before stepping on? Or how welcoming the wait staff is in a restaurant before sitting down in a panic that they might spit on your food? If only every location was equipped with a Mood Meter.

Developed out of the MIT Media Lab, the Mood Meter is an interactive technology that encourages, recognizes and then monitors the smiles of a community, providing an indicator of emotional responses to certain events.

The overall system is based on a set of distrubuted installations, placed strategically in locations with high pedestrian traffic. As people pass by, a camera snaps their image and sends it to a locally-connected laptop. The laptop then anaylzes the footage in real-time and displays the intensity of the visitors’ smiles.

Information is shown to the passersby in the form of a real-time interface. The camera overlays a yellow neutral face if a person isn’t smiling, yet a green smiley face otherwise. The happiness barometer on the left side then represents the average smile intensity of everyone present in the image.

The Mood Meter was first installed last April to monitor the overall mood of the Institute’s Festival of Art, Science and Technology — part of MIT’s 150th anniversary celebration. Cameras were placed in Media Lab, the Infinite Corridor, the Stata Center and the Stratton Student Center, although data’s not currently being recorded on the site.

What the project’s intended to do is raise awareness of how our own smiles can affect the surrounding environment. It can also help assess questions ranging from “Does warmer weather lead to happiness?” to “Are people from one department happier than those from another?”

Of course, this isn’t the only facial recognition technology to be developed out of MIT. Affectiva got its start in the Media Lab, and raised $5.7 million last July. Most recently, the Media Lab released a study, proving the difference between a frustrated smile and genuine smile. At the end of the day, I’m convinced MIT’s just trying to make the world a happier place.

To see the Mood Meter in action, check out the video from the Media Lab below.