Friday, February 12, 2010

Google's glass elevator and my video walls

A few years ago I came up with another one of my fantastic, technology has yet to catch up with it, ideas. And it was this: Let's take a client's meeting room, place floor to ceiling video walls all over the... walls and live stream webcams installed in a dozen kitchens (if you are a food client) or bathroom (if you are a personal care client). Then clients could immerse themselves into the kitchens, bathrooms and any other rooms of whoever they wanted to. They could look around their meeting room and see/hear real people going into their fridges or shaving. Live. And they could toggle between different households too.

Before you think: too much data and what to do with it all, etc., etc., I had five clients jump on board. And before completely fitting out a meeting room with expensive kit we first decided to use desktops to stream trial images. And the images came. But have you worked out the fatal flaw in my scheme yet?

People go to work, mostly, during the day. Which meant while our clients were at work and sitting in the 'glass elevator' hoping to see people snacking or washing, they saw very little indeed. Obvious when you think about it.

I quickly hatched a new plan. Scrap video walls. Let's use motion detecting web cameras pointed at objects like the fridge, the sink, the cooker and the like. The camera would only switch on and record when a person came into view. And when they left the view the video clip would be encoded and emailed to a recipient who had selected, say, a fridge alert.

This scheme worked. And we had some clients who would even have weekly meeting to brainstorm the captured events and extract meaning. But there was still a practical flaw which ultimately killed this scheme too. Our camera's motion sensor would switch on not only when there was human motion, but also when the sun hid behind the clouds and darkened a room. Or when the sun came out and lightened a room. Any small light changes would lead to clients receiving alerts showing absolutely nothing happening. And some would sit and watch these alerts to the end in case something did happen at some point. Very irritating.

By the way, this scheme was one of a series of 'innovations' that eventually lead me to the EverydayLives iPhone App. And seeing Google's glass elevator made me see that perhaps an immersion room can still be possible. Things, after all, have moved on...