Monday, April 22, 2013

Trying out my very own robot cameraman

Seldom do I come across anything too exciting in life. I can count them on one hand: My first video game, my first use of a VCR and my first SatNav. Ok, I could add my wife, birth of our kids and the first time a client said 'Yes' to a proposal. But I want to stick to technology with this post.

A few weeks ago I came across something called the Swivl.

It's a 'robot' on which you can place your iPhone to follow you around a space as it films you. I got in touch and they kindly sent me a unit to play with. This morning, without any practice or rehearsal, I took it out of it's box and in under 3 minutes had it up and running. I can now add the Swivl to one of the things that has truly excited me in my life.

You see, I no longer need to worry about participants who find it awkward to film themselves. I have always talked about the importance of capturing naturalistic behaviour and the only way of capturing it being with a participant observer with a video camera. And now, here we are without a participant observer. Instead it's a small robot following the participant around anywhere and - critically - without being distracted by having to hold the smartphone in hand.

This is the robot that can capture behaviour as it unfolds. This is the robot that will change the way I think about mobile auto ethnography.

And although this post is not intended as a product review, I want to stress just how easy the Swivl is to use - by anyone. It may be a little jerky, have manual horizontal motion only and have a slightly buggy app (I had a problem sending the above clip to my camera roll). But all of these will be fixed. The key thing is the methodological flexibility to carry out explorations which would have needed a camera person present.

Let me end by making clear, however, that the Swivl will not replace an ethnographic researcher's perspective and insight. It will change existing mobile auto ethnographic methods by allowing users to capture their own behaviour remotely.

You saw it here first!



  1. 1. You can turn on automatic vertical tracking in the app, under Base Controls ("Automatic Tilt"). But, we do not recommend it because human eye does not like a lot of vertical movements.
    2. Sending a longer video to the camera roll takes some time because iOS does not "move" but "copy". The copying process involves only iOS and it can be slow it the OS decides to do optimizations.
    3. We recommend you get the Swivl higher and in landscape mode to get the best visual results.

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