Autographer wearable camera will save your life… or track your staff

Autographer wearable camera will save your life… or track your staff

Summary: OMG has announced Autographer, a new life-logging camera that is basically an up-to-date version of the SenseCam invented by Lyndsay Williams at Microsoft Research. While that was developed for medical uses, the Autographer could be used for business or pleasure…

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Autographer life-logger

Microsoft created a stir with its SenseCam wearable camera a decade ago, and now OMG (Oxford Metrics Group) has announced Autographer, an updated version aimed mainly at the consumer market. Both were designed by electronics engineer Lyndsay Williams, formerly of Microsoft Research and now managing director of her own Girton Labs. 

The SenseCam was designed to help people with Alzheimer's disease or other memory problems to capture their life experiences and share them with their doctors and carers. This patented "memory enhancement camera" captures the wearer's day in about 2,000 images, which can be replayed in about five minutes. The result is somewhere between still pictures and a movie, and makes events more accessible than viewing hundreds of hours of CCTV recordings.

The SenseCam's medical application was featured in a BBC2 TV Eyewitness programme in 2010, which also explored its effect on eye-witness reports of a pub fight.

The life-logger aims to capture significant events by using various sensors. There are half a dozen in the Autographer: accelerometer, light sensor, magnetometer, infra-red motion detector, and thermometer, with a GPS system to record locations. Photos are taken with its 5-megapixel camera when there are sudden changes that indicate significant actions. Williams says: "A lot of the design is similar to the iPhone 4, because I was working on both at the same time."

OMG already sells a Vicon Revue version of the camera into the medical research market, but it has very limited distribution. There are obvious business uses for people working in hazardous areas, or with hazardous materials, and perhaps for those who work with the public.

If police officers, traffic wardens, ticket inspectors, guard dogs etc wore Autographers, it could settle a lot of disputes. Williams says it could also improve behaviour, if people know everything is being recorded.

The Autographer does not record sound, though Williams says she has experimented with compressing a day's recordings into five-minute summaries. "It's pretty easy to filter out speech," she says. "Recording that would be an invasion of privacy, and would limit what people would say." And as she points out, there are plenty of other sound recording devices already on the market.

The Autographer should also appeal to consumers as a way of recording trips and holidays without constantly using a separate camera. Further, OMG says in a statement: "Autographer is designed to change the way we think about photography: one where moments are captured without intervention. The user can live the experience while Autographer spontaneously captures the stories that unfold. This is not just a new camera but a whole new photographic approach."

Autographer uses a glass wide-angle (136-degree field of view) fixed-focus lens. It has 8GB of built-in storage, Bluetooth communications, and weighs 58g. A smartphone app allows users to browse images on the go, while a desktop application provides editing facilities.

OMG Autographer

Williams says she is worried about the "Peeping Tom aspect" of life-logging cameras, and hopes the Autographer will not be abused.

This is probably a vain hope, though we have survived the arrival of countless "spy cameras" built into sunglasses, pens, radios and other objects. Also, the UK and some other countries already have widespread CCTV camera coverage, and the ubiquity of camera phones means that almost anything that happens in public can already be recorded. In the longer term, wearable devices such as Google Glasses represent an even greater threat.

For consumers, the Autographer's most obvious drawback is the cost. OMG says it will be available online in the UK November at £399, and the US price is $650. The cost should be less of an issue for people with Alzheimer's and so on, where (unlike the Revue) the device can be used without involving a physician.

Businesses that want to use Autographers to track construction workers, security staff, baggage handlers, police dogs or whatever, will no doubt run pilot projects to calculate the return on investment. It's certainly worth considering.

Topics: Security, Start-Ups, Travel Tech

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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5 comments
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  • Cost issue for dementia sufferers

    Jack, I'm mystified by your claim that "cost should be less of an issue for people with Alzheimer's and so on". How so?

    I don't have dementia in any form, thankfully, but if I did the cost would still be an absurdly high £399 (one could be forgiven for thinking they'd taken lessons in pricing from Apple).

    The security aspects seem a tad ambitious too. Take two examples mentioned, construction workers and baggage handlers, two pretty active jobs, during which I find it hard to see that a wearable camera would record anything useful, being easily and legitimately obstructed or simply moving around way too much - let's face it, these things are a universe away from a Steadicam.

    And given the uproar that greeted the introduction of the tachograph, the fact that these things are massively more intrusive is going to cause huge industrial relations problems.

    On the other hand, as an at-risk disabled person, thanks to Cameron's and IDS's lie-fest, I'd welcome one of these. Just not at the price - cheaper alternatives are available.
    ronwgraves
  • Pricing etc

    Thanks for the comment.

    > "cost should be less of an issue for people with Alzheimer's and so on". How so?

    People (and their carers) are more likely to find or raise the cash for something that is genuinely helpful than for something that's just a bit of fun.

    > Just not at the price - cheaper alternatives are available.

    Such as?

    Although it's expensive, it's cheaper than an iPad or iPhone, and it's half what I paid for my DSLR. I agree it won't reach everyone, at the current price, but this is just the first example of a pioneering product.
    Jack Schofield
  • Replacing a conventional camera?

    "The Autographer should also appeal to consumers as a way of recording trips and holidays without constantly using a separate camera."

    Except that it will only snap what is in front of it rather than what the owner really wants to take a picture of.
    Ian Sargent
    • True, but....

      > Except that it will only snap what is in front of it rather than
      > what the owner really wants to take a picture of.

      It provides a different kind of record. It doesn't replace a traditional camera...
      Jack Schofield
  • Some would get their lifes back and cleaned up...

    ...if they had one of these!
    Assange, Strauss-Kahn, and so on!
    People would behave better, but people would be much much harder to get framed or incriminated by major powers!
    I'm NOT tating that it happens.... ever! At all... but it could!
    TiagoViana