DIS 2008 day 2: Sensecam triggers emotions

Some great presentations at DIS 2008 carried on the themes of social and emotional interaction.

Maria HÃ¥kansson and Lalya Gaye from the Viktoria Institute in Goteborg, Sweden talked about their “context camera.” It’s a digital stills camera that applies effects to the pictures based on sound and motion that occured as the photo was taken.

Context camera pictures - Zoom, colour shadow, pixel and wave effects

Marcus Foth from Queensland University presented Cityflocks – a social navigation tool with a difference. The mobile-phone based system to allow people to write and read restaurant reviews, but it also allowed people wanting information to actually contact a local Cityflocks user and ask for restaurant advice directly – via text message or even a voice call. The designers compare it to asking someone in the street for directions. To me it sounds like a mixture of Zagat and real-time Yahoo answers.

The results: people didn’t like the voice call mechanism – too synchronous and intrusive. The text message approach worked well, but it took a couple of days to get answers so it was better for people who were planning ahead.

Microsoft Sensecam research

But my favourite talk of the day was about some recent research undertaken by Manchester Metropolitain university and the BBC using the Microsoft Sensecam.

Microsoft research invented the Sensecam in 1999. It’s a light-weight digital camera that you wear around your neck. It takes pictures automatically, when it senses changes in light, heat or motion.You can also set it to just take photos on a regular clock. The photos are 640×480 resolution – and each one is just a rough-and-ready snapshot, taken automatically. You end up with a with a huge mass of photos which you can play back as a timelapse film of your day.

Microsoft sensecam

This sounds odd and pointless. And when the researchers gave five sensecams to regular folk, they weren’t sure they were going to see anything very exciting.

But the results they got back amazed them. People really connected with medium. They selected unexpected favourite photos. One wrote dialogue to represent the conversation that had been happening at the time of the picture. Another set his timelapse to music – to make an absolutely entrancing 3-minute film. One participant was overjoyed to capture one of those moments when you just wish you had a camera – he caught his girlfriend feeding a dog biscuit to the dog, and eating a dog biscuit herself!
A serendipetous sensecam picture of someone's first day at nursery school

Here are some of the reasons why having a Sensecam could be amazing…

  • Imagine seeing all the things in your day you didn’t notice, and getting a chance to take a fresh look at how you spend your time.
  • Imagine seeing a friend’s or partner’s day played back to you in a couple of minutes
  • Imagine seeing a timelapse film of what your child did all day
  • Imagine putting a sensecam on your dog – or attaching it to a kite
  • Imagine running your own timelapse day alongside your partner’s so you can see what each of you was doing at each moment as the day progressed
  • Imagine reviewing days in the life of a deceased loved one

Nokia’s lifeblog, and other life-blogging approaches, have already hinted at some of these experiences. But Sensecam makes the whole process close to automatic, and provides a perspective which is close to your own, but not your own. The result is remarkable.

Microsoft don’t appear to have plans to manufacture the Sensecam for consumer use yet. I’m looking forward to the day when they do.

Last day of DIS 2008 tomorrow. But I’ve seen more stuff already than I can blog about!

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