I first got to have a play with the Autographer in March 2013.
I had previously heard of Oxfords Metrics Group and their earlier sense cam designed to assist Alzheimer sufferers, but on this occasion I was specifically there to see the prototype device destined to put this evolved medical technology in the hands of the general public.
Finally, last week I got hold of one to try out for myself.
For the record I didn’t pay £400. I met with the Autographer team in the OMG Life (Oxfords Metrics Group) offices in London and was handed a small box containing the camera, a lanyard, a connecting cable and a small slip of paper tucked into the simple instructions. The slip highlighted that when wearing a small unobtrusive camera in public, I may want to take into consideration the privacy of others.
I liked this small touch as ever since I attended the first Memoto meet up in Stockholm last year, quite a few of the issues connected to wearable life-logging cameras have been at the forefront of my mind. Memoto is a similar life logging device but as yet still not released.
Here is a conversation I had with the Memoto team back in December 2012. (Again I seem preoccupied by the noisy air conditioning in the room.)
The Memoto is smaller and more obvious than the Autographer. It uses slightly different parameters i.e place, time, habits, and behaviour. The images are then uploaded manually to their cloud service.
The Autographer uses five sensors, measuring motion, acceleration, changes in colour and light, temperature and direction. An algorithm then decides when best to take a photo.
It has a silent 5 mega pixel camera shooting through a glass hybrid 136 degree semi-fisheye lens, an OLED display and a really simple two button interface. The images are stored on your own devices with the option of sharing to Autographer’s cloud services.
Wanting to limit how much data I was initially recording I set my camera to medium frequency, i.e. to not take the photos too often, and set the GPS to off.
I then went to grab a bite to eat before taking the train back to Cambridgeshire.
The first and so far only time I’ve been questioned about the device is was when I took it off to record myself eating. After I explained the staff seemed more amazed with the device than suspicious as to why this geek wants to shoot time-lapse of their noodles disappearing. I think Hipsters have already paved the way with life-logging to Instagram.
This is so much easier though. You soon forget you are documenting the world around you and for me the most impressive facet of all of this is the ability to quickly and easily share the images taken from the device to the phone via bluetooth and from a laptop when attached via the software. This then enables you to create animated gifs or videos in just a few clicks.
I have not really filmed more than a few hours at a time but it’s stated that the 8gb internal memory. will hold 28,000 images. Set at high frequency the camera would take that 12 days of continuous use to fill the space.
You will of course need to charge the battery every couple of days or so but this does mean you could happily go away for a week without your computer and still have some space left on your return.
The iOS and Desktop app work and look great. An Android app is apparently on the way. I’d love to see a feature request button as I found myself revelling in the simlicity but felt a few modifications would go a long way improving its functions and user experience.
I won’t be the first reviewer to say the image quality from the camera is not great. That said if I wanted to take a crisp high-def photo I’d use my Fujifilm X100s. If I needed a visual witness or wanted to document an event without needing to think about it.. I’d use the Autographer. The image quality will improve. It has to to justify the £399 price tag. For me though it’s the behaviour this nurtures and the questions it raises.
Wearable tech is soon to go mainstream. It already has if you consider some of the fitness apps and devices plotting and recording. And then of course there is the personal data scraper called Google Glass we are expected to embrace after investing a huge chunk of cash in a device we know we can’t trust.
Luckily battery technology does not yet allow Google Glass to be always on. Perpetually recording and sharing images as if providing public (and private) access to our eyes. It’s only a matter of time though.
While some are keen on a convergence in our mobile tech, I can see great value in the Autographer being a dedicated device. After all it will no doubt fit seamlessly into the ‘Internet of things.’ Not the ‘Internet of thing.’
As a daily diarist I felt more comfortable than I thought I would wearing the Autographer. I captured moments I rarely or maybe never photograph. A couples embrace on a packed train, my hands on a steering wheel, interactions with the authorities, the smiles of serving staff, my Grandmothers sadness.
Occasionally I would remember the camera slung around my neck and found myself suddenly remembering to turn the lens dial to private. I know I can happily take a leak in a public toilet and the camera angle not divulge anything other than the tiling. But I found myself suddenly and understandably concerned by the privacy of those around me. Another time was when I thought other peoples kids were identifiable in a playground.
What might happen when I walk through airport security and inadvertently break the law? What does all this mean for privacy in general?
If this novelty doesn’t wear off, I’ll no doubt be approached and told that i’m invading someones privacy. Should anyone ask I will of course turn off the device. Easy with the Autographer. A rotate of the lens reveals a bright yellow lens cover. I will however enjoy asking said person how they think an offline image captured on my wearable camera invades a privacy already leaking left, right and centre. With every online action, transaction and interaction. With every checkin and status update, with every trip using an online sat nav we erode more and more of this supposed privacy.
With the latest Prism news it appears all we really need to do in order to divulge a variety of personal information is touch a computer or have a phone on our person.
I will always ask before live streaming, before capturing a conversation in audio. But it’s not common practice to ask people permission to photograph in a public space and I wonder how devices like the Autographer might effect the etiquette around such actions and how that will evolve.
We are only just beginning to wrestle with some very complex social and cultural issues around wearable technology, and just because we can automate our personal documentation of the world, it doesn’t mean we should. Either we restrict the technology to fit our level of acceptability or, as tends to happen, our understanding of what is acceptable will shift
Many of us don’t see CCTV anymore. Autographer could be seen as a wearable, consumer version of that, though these new data streams are public and open as well as private and closed.
Soon the Autographer will be as high a resolution as any camera. No doubt with facial recognition and optical character recognition. Eventually the curation software will be even more advanced. Seamlessly archiving, collating and sharing in the background. Maybe in real time. Perhaps with audio.
Autographer comes from interesting and meaningful stock that now gives us a fascinating life-logging tool. All it’s uses are yet to be explored and the real potential will be determined by the users.
My favourite line from this is “I will however enjoy asking said person how they think an offline image captured on my wearable camera invades a privacy already leaking left,
right and centre.” I find it interesting how people seem to object to individuals filming/photographing in public places, but we all seem to be becoming virtually blind to CCTV in general.
Whether this is as a result of familiarity, sheer volume of cameras, or the fact that there isn’t a face attached to the camera (or even some combination of the above), if devices like the Autographer make people question and re-evaluate just what privacy they do and don’t have, then it’s definitely a positive in my book. Which is good, because in a panopticon style future where we are all live streaming all the things, negatives might be frowned upon 😉
Of course, in five years time when everybody is wearing such devices, the chances are that we will be in the same ambivalent state we are now with CCTV.
Thanks for the comment Mat. Yes it’s this ambivalence i’m trying to avoid. This device certainly raises more questions than it answers and I can think of a multitude of uses that are not as invasive to others as the always on and shooting options.
Ben Smith says
I wouldn’t object to being filmed in public (although I still think there’s an etiquette to asking permission when done in a new / novel way people are unfamiliar with) but I’d feel quite comfortable asking you to stop in a private setting.
Given how frequently you pass from public to private land during the day I wonder if manually switching life-logging tools on/off will become too onerous…
And lets remember also that public and private spaces are not always that obvious. I discussed the Airport security issue with Memoto asking if they would consider Geo-ringfencing certain areas that are illegal to film in. I’m guessing it would be a logistical nightmare.
Ben Smith says
Good point. Unfortunately product designers probably need to design to the letter of the law whereas users can be pragmatic and wouldn’t disable a life-logger in a railway station or on a footpath over private land.
Tim Arnold WEA says
Looking to take a zillion not-very-good photos without a moment’s thought? Welcome to the future, friend. I know this is about more than just application, but I can’t help thinking products like these are for the most part just going to end up generating a lot more pointless data. Yes, for time immemorial people have captured the abject banality of daily life through words and pictures, but this bypasses the human interaction with surroundings and subjects. And do you really want to capture those rarely-seen moments?
And then there’s the issue of privacy…
Hi Tim, Thanks for the comment. To answer your points..
I don’t think any data is pointless at all. There is always a use for it.
I also believe that if you look hard enough you will never see banality.
Also if the lens is a filter between your eyes and the world. It could be argued that it’s possible to interact more when you are not thinking about documenting it.
I’m not just trying to play devils advocate here. 🙂
Tim Arnold WEA says
I can’t agree with your opinion about data. Example: you have three near-identical images taken milliseconds apart in a set of photos. What would be the point of keeping them all? As for banality, maybe that is a state of mind: seeing beauty in the crisp packet blowing down a street. I just see litter and feel annoyed. The lens of an automated camera may be a filter, but it’s a dumb one. Imagine pressing down on your cafetiere to find that 90% of your coffee is grounds…
1) Three different photos are three different photos are three different datasets. Metadata and all.
2) I’m glad that boring crisp packet made you think. Shame it just triggered anger and the feeling didn’t evolve into questioning the why, where, who etc.
3) 90% of my coffee is grounds. I like espresso.
Tim, I feel filters are perfect for you. Just to extract what you see as ‘valuable’ from the ocean of meaning out there. 😉
I’m wondering how long before one of these is found beside a body at the scene of the crime. Or perhaps handed into the police by the victim of a mugging. In the hope there may be a glimpse of the attacker inside.
As long as the interesting things happen in daylight, it should be recorded. Until the camera improves that is.
I think the contrast between this and CCTV is the expectation of context. We don’t expect CCTV to end up online or on tv. If more of it did, there might be comments. With this though, you have no idea what is planned for the footage. Is it just personal recollections, or is someone looking for the next Star Wars kid? It is the unknown future invisible audience that I think lends the creepiness to these devices.
CCTV Camera says
To watch the above video i think this is a best way to protect our self in public place. With the help of it we feel secure in every place.