Imagine a format that lies somewhere between photos and video, and a device that takes that format automatically, without you having to click a button. Microsoft's SenseCam is a prototype that hangs around your neck, lifecasting everything you see.
Around three years ago, lifecasting was all the rage. We idolised iJustine, Justin.tv and the countless other people brave enough to film every action, every day. The trouble with their form of lifecasting is that it's done via a camcorder strapped to a hat, filming all your actions plus everyone else's. You could almost say the SenseCam is the lifecasting device for shy people who are merely interested in jogging their memory at a later date; people who want to tell a story without having to hear themselves.
So, What The Heck Is It? Measuring the size of a square pack of cards, it hangs from a lanyard around the neck and films everything within your eyesight in 640 x 480 resolution photos, compressing them as JPEGs on the device's internal 1GB SD card. It can store over 30,000 images - which works out to around 100 hours' worth of lifecasting, based on approximately 300 photos taken each hour (which is the average number automatically shot), plus the time each photo was shot at.
Its 0.3MP VGA image sensor may not be as good as your cameraphone or even laptop webcam (though it does shoot in a wide-angle fish-eye style effect which I loved), but those devices require you to click a button every time you want a photo taken. The SenseCam takes photos passively, based on changes to the light, temperature or movement - or you can set it to take photos on a timer instead.
It contains several different sensors - light-intensity and light-colour sensors, a passive infrared detector for measuring changes in body heat, a temperature sensor and an accelerometer for detecting movement. It's certainly interesting moving between rooms with different lighting conditions, and seeing how many more photos the SenseCam takes.
Every Step You Take, It'll Be Watching You When connected to a computer it pops up as an external hard drive, with individual folders dedicated to each batch of 100 photos, or roughly 20 minutes' worth of memories. I used the SenseCam over two days, and by the end I had thousands of photos to sort through. Opening all the folders and previewing them on my Mac, I just ran through them quickly, so they turned into something akin to a flipbook. It was shocking seeing how often I open my Twitter tab when working, and how many times each hour I chew on my nails.
Cooking dinner provided the best results. The SenseCam detected the change in temperature and likely the light as well, so took as many as eight shots a minute. Chopping sundried tomatoes turned the shots into a movie when I ran through them quickly on the laptop later - and stirring pasta with a wooden spoon saw my hand move very slightly in each shot.
Sadly - and this is more of a reflection on my life than the SenseCam - none of the photos are really worth showing anyone. In fact, what you see below in the gallery are the only photos I deemed interesting enough. No one, especially not me, wants to see hours' worth of photos of my laptop screen as I work, flipping tabs and checking email. An alarming amount of photos showed my BlackBerry in front of the camera, as I replied to emails when I was away from my laptop. A good number featured my cat in them.
Here Comes The Fun But the potential here is huge. Whereas strapping a camcorder to a hat is deemed as intrusive, having a small box the size of a deck of cards strung from my neck on a lanyard is far from it. Filming makes both you, and the people around you, very aware of every action. Affectations are created that way; egos are born. Having a camera that you don't have to control means it's forgotten, so a truer representation of your life can be broadcast- should you choose to put the photos on Twitter, Facebook or Flickr.
As there's no plans for Microsoft to send the SenseCam down the production line (excluding the fact that they've licensed the technology to Vicon, who'll sell it to the medical industry), it's not too important hypothesising on why you could ever want or need one.
I do wish however that I was wearing it several nights ago when my friend won tickets to the London premiere of Remember Me, and we were stood 5m away from Robert Pattinson (he of Twilight fame). The one shaky photo I managed on my BlackBerry, which while it has a better image sensor than the SenseCam's, was ruined thanks to my nerves and emotions running wild. The SenseCam, while triggered by changes in bodyheat or temperature, doesn't have stage fright when confronted with celebrities-you-really-shouldn't-fancy-but-actually-do.
There's a future here with the SenseCam, if Microsoft can find the right partner to licence the technology to for personal use. They could even launch it successfully themselves. I wouldn't use it everyday, and certainly have no need for reviewing 100 hours of my life through the form of 30,000 photos, but it'd be great fun to wear while at a party - especially for those of us who often suffer from memory loss the next morning. Adding a 3G chip and GPS, so each photo could be sent to an online profile and tagged with your whereabouts would be future features I'd like to see... but then, who would be interested enough in viewing someone else's life from their perspective?
Innovative device with huge potential
Easy to use, easy to transfer to computers
Fish-eye effect is fun
It'll probably never see the light of day in Best Buy or on Amazon
Photos could be higher-res, admittedly