The extraordinary sight of a massive meteorite hurtling across the Russian skies only to explode into a thousand fragments brought home many things this week. The simple truth that our planet shares the universe with other bodies, which occasionally cross paths with
our own, in dramatic ways, and that Russians have a disposition for dashboard mounted video cameras of startlingly good high definition video quality.
The variety of HD portable cameras on the market today baffles the imagination. There seem to be cameras for every situation.
There are still cameras for amateurs, pro DSLRs, DSLRs at entry-level for those that want the features of the pro camera but can wait for the super fancy CMOS sensors
before making photos and movies which only a pro could tell the difference from those taken with cameras cost three times the price.
The dash and head-mounted camera market is relatively narrow, limited mainly to extreme sports types, and to those who want to capture events at outings for later retrieval.
Then there are the industrial shopfloor and even cloak-and-dagger markets and civilian police who use these things to 'gather evidence' and conversely, activists, artists and film makers. The sheer number of cameras trained on officer Pike at UC Davis for example (who's enthusiasm for the pepper spray on defenseless students seemed to be actually reinforced by the presence of
the nearby dozens of cameras) eventually resulted in the million-dollar settlement in favor of the students.
It clearly pays for citizens to have a video camera on them in daily life, as a way to protect against undue force of all kinds. Wearable computing pioneer and coiner of the term 'sousviellance', professor Steve Mann of Toronto University has famously
made a personal life ambition to educate people on the injustices of a one-way camera culture, where we are encouraged to accept the situation where only the powerful wield lenses, the better to keep us in our place. How much better,
for us all to 'pack heat' (as makers of wearable computers describe using their rigs) in order to turn the tables and render surveillance (sur meaning 'over or from above') into sousveillance (sous meaning 'from below').
If we all 'veil' then the 'sur' can step aside to make way for a more democratic society of seeing. Or at least that's the theory. Cameras everywhere on everyone nullifies the singular panoptic gaze of THEM staring at all of us. We all veil. The dashcams of Russia are there to thwart would-be scammers. Typical scenario - they back into your car then claim that in fact you hit them, and you'd better pay up (youtube is replete with these scenarios, and even these are probably fabricated scenes). The camera proves otherwise. So small microSD cameras mounted on car dashboards have become as important there are rear view mirrors. Sampling long chunks of time has become a banal, everyday necessity, and it is easy to see how such a situation might one day unfold in the USA and Europe as cynicism increases, and opportunism matches the meanness of spirit in the global economic climate. But what of this specific camera, the Looxcie HD?
Looxcie's HD camera lets you wear a mouth-organ sized and shaped camera on your baseball cap via means of a clip, and record onto micro SD cards up to several hours of HD footage. The battery is more likely to give out before the data storage. The maximum size data microSD card is 32 gigs which will provide just over 2 hours of continuous recording.
You can also stream from the camera's view to your smartphone using a special app which also lets you control the on & off functions, and have that stream be made available to those who have an app installed on their smartphones. You alert them about the incoming stream via email or facebook. Another option is to have the camera buffer everything, then simply back up this buffer if you decide to use it later. You don't really record, you store it in RAM, and only use it if you need it. Or hit a button on the camera or an icon on your phone and suddenly commit to sd card the last 20 minutes of what you just experienced.
The fixed lens also has an LED to show you when the recording is happening, and audio takes place via a tiny recording mic near the lens. The device is beautifully made, with a form factor info-lithium battery which I have to say can get pretty hot
(as these types of batteries are wont to do at the best of times).
In theory you can stream live to the web from the Looxcie HD via your iphone for well over an hour, or simply use it as a standard camcorder. It took me a while to work out how to use the iPhone app to fully understand how to pair the camera with the phone, but once I'd succesfully made a connection
a number of times, I got the idea.
Ideally you would leave a steaming camera plugged in to a power supply via micro-usb, and an iPhone plugged into power. Once you have a video stream going, you then contact your friends via email or facebook, who then recieve a message. If they have an app, they can view your stream as it happens.
I've tended to use the Looxcie HD mainly as a standard video camera. Wearing it on my baseball cap and turning it on & off here and there to get shots of the view through the subway train, or the view from the windscreen of the car, events in daily life. Back home, I connect it via microUSB cable to my laptop and drag the files onto a folder on the desktop. I then play them with Video Lan Player or VLC.
The image quality is very good, with decent contrast and surprisingly good sound. As usual with any object this small, keeping the image stable is a challenge, but the prospect of having a clean, sharp 1280 X 720 30 fps HD video image wherever you go is an exciting one.
The habit of wearing the Looxcie HD on your cap takes some getting used to - who in your field of view will object? Will they know what it is if they see it? When to take it off? When to turn it on? You usually have to take the cap off, go into the shade, press the button, check the little red LED to see that it is 'on' then put the had back on.
Because it connects wirelessly to your smartphone or tablet, you can use it anytime, anywhere. Create an "instant replay" of what just happened with the unique Instant Clip button. Share a live stream with Facebook friends. The Looxcie HD is a good example of contemporary consumer HD video for capturing those moments you never knew you wanted.
We live in a time when these types of questions ('when should I be filming? Is it now appropriate to start recording video? Do people know? Should I tell them?) will be asked by more and more people. The fact that the cameras just get turned on and left on, usually in cars (as a means to foil insurance scams usually) means that all kinds of new images make themselves casually available - like thirty ton meteorites exploding above Russia.
example videos taken with Looxcie 2: