How Two Cameras ushered in the age of Digital Image and Video Documentation
Not long after my mom and dad died before the turn of the century, we finally got around to looking at hundreds of pictures my parents took from their early days as well as my early childhood. The photos brought back one particular memory of the first camera I used as a young child. It was a Brownie box camera which documented my first few years before the family upgraded to a newer Kodak camera of some sort. While the pictures of that time evoke good memories for me, shooting videos in those days was expensive and required a dedicated video camera as well as a separate video projector and screen. Consequently, I was only able to find one small video reel of less than a minute from when I was one year old and that was shot on a borrowed video camera from some family friends.
Fast forward to the late 1970’s when my son Ben was born and like most proud fathers, I bought a larger 35mm camera to document his early days and capture some of his various antics as a kid. I also saved to buy a VCR video camera so large it had to rest on my shoulder to stabilize it. From these cameras I have well over a hundred hours of Ben playing in little league, on vacation as a family and doing kid things parents like to capture during those growing years. However, to do this, I had to purposely go and get my cameras and fire them up to use them. Often I did not have them with me when Ben did something “interesting” or found something I wanted to capture in the moment for the future.
A generation later, Ben has two young girls of his own and while he has bought expensive digital cameras to document their lives, one big thing has changed. Thanks to cameras now on the market in either smartphones or in the form of wearable cameras, we can document just about anything and everything that goes on around us. These cameras have ushered in the digital age of documentation and generations from this time forward will have access to images and video documentation of our lives, culture and society the world has never had before.
The Digital Era
The first camera came from Philippe Kahn who founded LightSurf in 1998 not long after he left Borland and shortly after he had created the first camera phone solution that shared pictures instantly on public networks in 1997. The impetus for this invention was the birth of Kahn’s daughter; he jury rigged a mobile phone with a digital camera and sent off photos in real time. LightSurf was formed to take advantage of the explosive convergence of wireless messaging technology, the Internet, and digital media.
LightSurf’s core technology, the LightSurf 6 Open Standards MMS Platform, was a suite of hosted and managed MMS services that allowed users to capture, view, annotate, and share multimedia messages with any handset or e-mail address, regardless of device, file type, or network operator.
LightSurf’s products included the first mobile picture messaging solution in North America (GSM), the first mobile picture messaging solution on a GPRS carrier network, the first commercially deployed inter-carrier MMS solution in North America, the highest volume of picture and video messaging in North America and over 400 million media messages shared on Sprint’s network (powered by LightSurf).
I have known Philippe since he founded Borland, so not long after he started LightSurf he dropped by my office to show me the first camera phone I had ever seen. For me this was an Aha! moment as I immediately realized how big this could be to the cell phone market. Up until that time, cell phones were not very smart although many like Blackberry had already been used for messaging and email functions. The ability to take a picture and send it via these phones was groundbreaking. Today all feature phones and smartphones have cameras in them. More importantly these cameras become more powerful each year. Photo apps and software like Apple’s iPhoto editing programs, similar photo editing tools for Android and Windows Phone, and products like Adobe’s Photoshop have shaken up the world of photography by giving the smartphone the ability to take pictures on the spot, edit them and share them. Additionally, the ability to instantly post photos and videos to sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram has produced a revolution in personal photography that has impacted the world in many ways. These tools have also made it possible to deliver video chats from smartphones and tablets enhancing mobile communications in a big way.
Video in the First Person
The second product I saw I instantly knew would be a big deal was when I met with Looxcie in the fall of 2010 and they showed me the first generation of their POV (Point of View) cameras. To be honest I had real concerns about the first generation of this product since it was quite large, sat over the ear, and was clumsy to use. Although early versions of GoPro had been on the market I had not seen them in person and even in 2010 the idea of POV cameras had not really caught the attention of the consumer market. Over the last three years, Looxcie, GoPro and other POV cameras have become game changers since they began bringing video cameras into the mainstream when they started being used in the highly popular XGames. They started being used by skateboarders who posted tricks on YouTube along with people jumping out of planes with parachutes, surfers, hikers, etc. I was recently in Kauai, HI and saw GoPro cameras all over – especially used by surfers and snorkelers with watertight cases on their cameras so they could video their water sports adventures. Today, there are over two dozen POV cameras on the market including a much better version of the Looxcie catching the fancy of active consumers.
From the beginning, I thought these cameras could have an even greater impact on things like Police, Fire, First Responders and even other vertical markets like transportation, manufacturing, healthcare and others. In fact, this POV idea sits at the center of some of the Smart Glass applications I am seeing and most likely these vertical markets will be the first area where smart glasses actually take off with demand for consumers for these types of glasses a few years from now. One vertical market with a high interest in POV cameras is police departments. The key reason is related to litigation. Many times a police officer may stop a suspicious car and would like to capture the initial interaction with the driver in real time. Dash cams just won’t work in this setting but if they can video the encounter from the officer’s POV, its use is invaluable to them if there are questions about the interaction or if the case comes up in court. Police departments around the world are searching for this type of POV camera and most likely the most nonintrusive answer will be via some type of smart glass or digital video camera strapped on their lapels or other parts of the uniform for use as they approach a driver where they sense a potential issue. The savings in litigation fees and potential suit payouts alone would pay for the cost of these in no time. The best video camera I have seen especially for Police comes from Vievu.
Although cameras have become pretty ubiquitous since they are in well over one billion smart phones and several million POV cameras already on the market, it is clear these types of cameras have become disruptive in many ways. More importantly, they have brought us into the age of digital documentation and will be important tools that leave a rich legacy of our time for generations to come.