For a suggested retail price of $49, you will be able to ensure every move you make is captured on video. The palm-sized camera MeCam under development at Always Innovating Inc. will follow you around and take videos of you and your friends. You will be able to post these videos to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or any other social media site.
Always Innovating calls the MeCam a "self-video minicopter" in the video below. The camera can be operated by voice command, or it can be programmed to hover around you automatically. It has two autopilot algorithms and a Morpho Inc. video stabilizer. You upload video by streaming it to a smartphone or tablet.
The palm-sized MeCam, based on open-source software, will follow you around and shoot video. (Source: Always Innovating)
Details about the hardware are sketchy. Always Innovating says on its website that the MeCam has 14 sensors and three stabilization algorithms, offers "one-click true panorama," and works without a remote. The company did not respond to our requests for interviews or information.
In a press release unveiling the device in January, Always Innovating says the MeCam is run by a Cortex-A9 SoC. This ARM-based, low-power processor comes with up to four cores. The release doesn't says how many cores the device uses, but it does say the SoC module runs at anywhere from 1.0GHz to 1.5GHz, depending on configuration. That's a lot faster than the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 CPU, a measly 468MHz ARM9. The Cortex-A9 SoC module also includes 1Gbyte of RAM, an SD card, Bluetooth, and both 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi.
But that's just the hardware. What really piqued my interest is the fact that the MeCam uses open-source Linux-based software. That seems a lot like the robot operating system we discussed in May. Always Innovating says on its webiste that it's not going to manufacture the MeCam. Instead, it is licensing "the device and its core module." If I were in robotics, I'd like to see what I could do with open-source software (especially a robot operating system) and a tiny quadricopter design platform. Of course, it depends on the licensing cost.
Wow, that is quite an invention. Personally, I'm not sure my life is interesting enough for this sort of thing (although I guess that depends on your definition of "interesting") but I am sure the new generation of young people who are comfortable sharing every detail of their life with their friends online will love this product. It's like a flying Go-Pro on steroids!
Al, I'm interested in what else it could be used for as a design platform. Although it's small and cheap, there are reasons for this. First, Parrot's iPad-controlled flying video game AR.Drone 2.0 http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=238273 costs about $300 and is well-loaded with cameras, accelerometers and gyrometers, and WiFi communication. Second, many of the flying robot prototypes http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=249645 the military and others are investigating are based on hobby machine platforms, the volumes of which have driven down component price/performance ratios. And third, quadrotors, also called quadricopters or ornithopters, have been adopted as a design platform for a wide range of tasks, often performed in swarms by devices that don't look much bigger or more accomplished than the MeCam.
Chuck, that sounds like a much better idea than a flying paparazzo...I was thinking also that a military application might be good, or other types of surveillance (although not where they might be people around, as they would probably notice a flying camera buzzing about!). And what Ann said about it being a design platform for other applications actually makes more sense than what it was actually designed for. Although I'm sure some people will find this quite cool to have their personal paparazzo shadowing them. :)
Chuck, Maybe I'm caught up in the marketing hype but I like the idea of this as a consumer product: the MeCam. I can definitely see this flying around the house or office, "spying" on friends, family and co-workers. At $49, the price point is not that bad especially if it flies well. The military market is already full of this kind of equipment and they only want the best.
Nothing personal, but you make an uninformed mistake when you state the constitution gives you any rights. Rights are given by your creator (nature). The second amendment merely sates the federal government shall not make any laws to infringe on this right.
So, the Creator assigns us rights? How are they communicated? Radio? (care to characterize the frequency, modulation mode, etc.?) Booming voice? Little voices in your head? And assuming one receives such "messages" how does he autheticate their source? If I phone the bank and ask to transfer $10 from my savings to my checking account they take great pains to verify it's really me.
If your source is ancient writings you have the same problems.
Remember, this is a forum for discussing mainly science and technology, not hocus-pocus.
While it is not my area of specialty, both special and general relativity show that time "before the Gig Bang" cannot be discussed in the same sense as "the day before yesterday." I suggest you do some reading on that.
The more important point, though, is this. Serious science goes back only a few centuries. There are still many unanswered questions. An honest scientist looks at a "mystery" and says, "We don't have an answer yet but we are actively seeking one." The alternative is to say, "We don't have an answer, so the phenomenon must be magical or supernatual. The former may or may not be fulfilled, but at least it has a chance (and a pretty good batting average of late). The latter is an intellectual dead end.
Perhaps the way the Creator communicates is through the laws of physics, and specifically through the physical constants used in those laws. There is no reason why the exponent in the denominator of the law of gravity needs to be "2", but it's very convenient that it is. The same hold true of most of the physical constants. If they were much different than they are, heavy elements would not be stable, or stars would burn out quickly, either of which would be problematic.
It's not radio, and it's not a booming voice, but it could be communication. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), it's pretty hard to deduce from the laws of physics how the Creator feels about gun control, gay marriage, capital punishment, foreign wars, flag burning, and the other political issues of our day.
We are talking about the 4th amendment here. But the 4th amendment has already been so tortured that the courts say it means that the mother's personal privacy trumps the baby's personal privacy. With this travesty already approved, I doubt if they care if someone looks in your back yard.
Now the 2nd amendment is being tortured to mean that you cannot bear arms.
We can see that concern for this technology is minor compared to our real problem.
These type of devices were shown on local news telecast about a week ago. One family continually is peered down upon in their back yard while they are swimming or having an activity on the lawn. It seems to me if you have a no trespassing sign on your fence that it should extend to the air above your home. I understand the police, local law enforcement, and/or Feds is a different story. I don't feel it is lawful to be videoing over someone else's property without their consent.
I'm thinking of taking the 2nd ammendment in a different application to remove unwanted copter above my home if it happens. It would be like shooting skeet....PULL :-)
I know gun enthusiasts love to come up with applications for their weapons to show skeptics that they relly need to own them. (This case would present a great argument for being able to keep a .50 caliber machine gun in your yard. Maybe even an anti-aircraft missile.) However, before shooting down the little spy craft, have you consulted an attorney as to whether you have any legal recourse? Not so much fun as shooting your guns, but a bit more consistent with a civilized community.
"Of course there are lunatics around, but please don't pile everyone into this same vessel. And please don't call gun owners un-civilized."
Thank you for your reply. I gues it was a bit of a stretch to persume that when people spend substantial money to obtain a piece of equipment (a tool, an instrument, or a gun) they are inclined to seek (and maybe promote) possible uses for their investment. My reference to extreme weapons was purely hyupothetical to show how such arguments can lead to a reductio ad absurdum.
As for the reference to "un-civilized" I in no way suggested that gun owners, as people, are such. I was stating the rather obvious -- that resloving a dispute by negotiation or legal process is generally more "civilized" than shooting his helicopter with a gun.
By the way, did you try simply asking the offending neigbor to stop?
"My reference to extreme weapons was purely hyupothetical to show how such arguments can lead to a reductio ad absurdum."
Um no. Your message was quit clear. Anybody who believes in creation is illogical, not scientific, speaks to fictitious characters, and at times behaves uncivilized.
My apologies to the people on this forum for allowing this to take this tangental path. My only intent was to show that the U.S. Constitution is a set of laws intended to limit the government; not laws to limit the people. This distinction I hold very dearly, and I can't tolerate language that distorts it.
<THE_J_ALLEN_PHILOSOPHY>Of course I can not tolerate the bad language, because like Pavlov's dog, and a chain reaction, everything I do is reactionary and caused from the big bang. Scientifically I have no free will. </THE_J_ALLEN_PHILOSOPHY>
radio-active asks a good question--wish we had more info on specs, such as battery details and run time. Photos of the board are posted on this page: https://www.alwaysinnovating.com/products/mecam-photos.htm although both sides are inexplicably labeled "top".
Lets be realistic: Youtube is full of ox-droppings, and this can only contribute more of the same. In the real world, this device won't be used for serious purposes. The first place I would expect this gimmick to be put to use is in the womens locker room.
The prospect of widespread consumer use of these mobile cameras will intensify the privacy discussions already taking place around the domestic use of drones.
While I can envision some fantastic opportunities for productive uses, I think we can all imagine the more base uses for which these will certainly be used. And it is those invasive/exploitive uses that will drive outrage, reaction and legislation and test our individual rights.
For example, if one of these is flying around your head while you are out in public spaces, recording your every move without your permission, do you have the right to swat it out of the sky to protect your privacy or even the quality of your life? Or is that destruction of property?
As one commenter suggested, can you shoot one out of the sky over your property? There will most likely be products designed to counter this unwanted surveillance, i.e. mini anti-aircraft batteries that shoot paintballs to coat the camera lens, or epoxy to gum up the rotors; or even search-and-destroy aircraft of the same scale. Will it be legal to use these products to thwart the would-be chroniclers of your life? Or again, would it be destruction of property?
We may soon look back nostalgically to the days when mosquitoes were the most annoying airborne pests...
I just had a lengthily discussion with one of our engineers about this kind of tech. There could be a long learning curve on how to deal with all the issues that this opens.
I read the 'gun ownership, second amendment' stuff on this thread and I personally fall very far to the side of my rights are not up for discussion. And I feel the gov is constantly looking for ways to control law-abiding for no good reason. Plus, they will use anything that they can to justify going for that control. Ask Bloomberg whether I should be allowed to buy a 20oz soda if you need proof of their control-freakiness...
If you think guns create a problem, how about sicking the drones on someone from miles away. Isn't that what Holder said Obama is entitled to do... even to Americans... on American Soil... given some super secret reason... (National security don't ya know)
The discussion I mentioned above was more about the use of swarms of low cost drones (this tech) coupled with a desire to do evil. Distance would no longer matter, and traceability no long applies as it has in he past. The cost of investigating certain crimes will potentially go through the roof; especially for lesser crimes (Fuhgeddaboudit)
In short... bad people are the problem. Not the technology.
But look for any type of private ownership of drones, flying spy-cams, or like that to come under gov scrutiny over the next few years.
Permits, background checks, unique identifiers... and big fines/jail time for not have the correct collection of papers to allow possession of drones. It'll be gun laws plus tax. And btw, just like an extra-large soda... drones are not covered by the Constitution.
I'd be willing to bet that as soon as someone "technical" in the porn industry gets a whiff of this device, the managers of those facilities will be on the phone w/ their cadre of attorneys figuring out how they can adapt this technology for their own sordid purpose!!!!!
D. Sherman! UNLESS you think you know me personally, I see NO reason why you would advance such a comment! Maybe you'd be better off READING & LISTENING MORE than speaking & writing!!!!
I offered my comment ONLY because I've walked the face of this Earth for many decades, and I've seen the "highs" in life, and I've seen the "lows" in life, and I can assure you that I DON'T subscribe to the viciousness or deviancy that I've seen. So, please in the future, confine your comments to ones of substance, NOT conjecture!
not for myself of course (ahem!).... (note: that the end of humor for this post.)
Then I saw the comments, especially from the guy who already has some neighbor flying his spycam over the reader's home swimming pool. Presumably, the reader has daughters....
The reader mentioned something about a shotgun. I'd seriously consider taking that bird down one way or another. a 410 should do, but probably not in anything but a rural setting. Campus cops on at the small college near where I grew up were reported to carry salt guns. I don't know how much they cost or how loud their report, but they might do.
Finally, these copters can't get much altitude and still acheive the video resolution desired. Maybe you could get a fruit netting (e.g. to keep birds off fruit bushes & small trees, tie some weights around the edges and learn how to toss it in the air effectively.
A Long Postscript:
This reminds me of a company called X10 ~10-15 years ago. I learned of them because they sold some kind of PC/RS-232-controlled power switch, I think.
What sticks in my mind about the company though, is that the main image on their website advertised their remote control panning webcams. (this was in the pre webcam days, but that's basically what they were selling.)
Anyway, the site invariably had some (adobe) flash video of what a camera might see as it panned across some zone of property.
I_n_v_a_r_i_a_b_l_y, the panned region included a not-quite-scantily-clad-yet-way-far-from-dressed-for-winter (or even a warm autumn) teenage girl. By teenage, I mean maybe 15 or 16.
There was nothing in words to substantiate this, buy X10 clearly marketed these things at either teenage boys or heterosexual pedophile men.
I always surmised that the X10 CEO (or any management, for that matter) were men who either didn't have daughters, or didn't have families who knew how they sold product.
I have no sympathy for these things or people who operate them. Any voyeur tools coming near my property would be looking for trouble. And, I'd make sure that other neighbors became aware of the perps tools and activities.
More and more invention companies are getting really good ideas and turning them into profit. Most of these ideas are good if and only if the end use does not change (we are all good civilized honest hard working people right???). Does anyone here remember when cellphone cameras did not make a noise when snapping a picture. Did you wonder why the sound effect was added? Some states even have laws where a cellphone camera has to make an indicating noise of snapping a picture to inform people around it. Yes kids were getting these cameras and snapping pictures in the bathroom stalls, Gym dressing room, showers, pool and everything in between. Today it's still misused. We tolerate it more and are more aware of these devices however snap of the moments catching you in a bad situation are way too common. How much worse will it get with cameras on a flying platform? Forget the privacy fence at your pool now you will need a privacy roof and kind of takes the fun out of bathing in the sun.
And yes If I see any camera chopper pointing at my yard my shot might stray and hit it by accident (even if it's still in your yard) the only upside with me is "I promise to use a bbgun instead I'm that good a shot with those things"
Now there's an idea for those posting comments about shooting these things down. Instead of a projectile weapon crank up the leaf blower - maybe you can blow the small device from your immediate vicinity, plus give the voyeur some motion sickness inducing images.
Technically this is a neat idea and would have been cool to have when I was videoing my kids playing ball. Unfortunately, in today's world where papparazzi get paid well to use high powered lenses to catch unsuspecting celebrities topless I see lots of bad stuff coming from it. The cat is out of the bag now though and it's only a matter of time before someone take advantage of the technology for ill use.
I don't think that it would take a vortex cannon to down one of the cute little obnoxious quadracopters. How about a rubber band shot from a finger?. Or to be much more effective, that same rubber band with two feet of thread tied to it? Ca the thing fly with only three props??? I agree that those blades could be an eye hazard, but also a hair hazard for a few of the people that I know. And that all is un-needed, because it would be a simple matter to add a perimeter ring around the ends of the blade segments, and make it a lot safer, similar to the blades on those really cheap toy helicopter toys.
Actually, I had posted before realizing that any garden hose with a good nozzle on the end will be the best candidate for anti-quadcopter defenses. Everyone will already have one of these in their backyards so no additional specialized devices are needed.
The rubber bands trailing a string will make it easier to score a hit, and I recommend aiming high so that the prop wash will drag the string down into the blades. So that could work. But maybe a small rubber ball with a streamer would work in the same way? Picking up a ball and throwing it is something that can be done quickly with good aim and plenty of range for the highest flying objects.
But, what will we do about the nighttime versions of these copters? What about quadcopters that can land on a treetop and remain on station for days using a solar panel to keep charging? There are other possibilities, and I've been wondering if the DIY community will begin developing passive radar using the radiation from cellphone towers and wifi networks to see these devices coming.
If a company with an allegedly innovative new product can't be bothered to answer questions from the press, then as far as I'm concerned their product doesn't exist. Anyone can cobble together a non-functional prototype, take a picture of it, and send out a press release, and plenty do. I expect a respectable trade magazine to vet these press releases and ignore the ones that are too far from reality. The alternative energy world, in particular, is well-populated with "mad geniuses" who claim to have invented something revolutionary that they can't talk about. The "tech gadgetry" world is getting to be almost as bad. At best, most of these things constitute a clever senior project from a respectable engineering school. At worst, they are frauds designed to fleece investors.
Sorry, but if the flying camera is real enough to have a price tag, it should be real enough to have someone in the company willing to talk to a reporter. If not, cool as it sounds, a serious trade magazine should not waste time "reporting" on it.
There's not even much point in discussing the social implications of this thing when it doesn't exist. One might as well talk about the significance of antimatter warp drives, the only difference being that a small helicopter camera platform with autopilot software is something that could actually be built. Which makes it all the more disappointing when someone sends out a press release apparently trying to shop the idea around, before they've even constructed a single functional prototype.
D. Sherman, I couldn't disagree with you more. Yes, there's a ton of tech gadgetry out there. Yes, there's a lot of blather on the internet about all sorts of things. But you'd be surprised how many large, reputable companies who clearly exist and who make well-known products that also clearly exist don't return phone calls and emails. This one was covered by other reputable press, including IEEE Spectrum. Also, this is one in a class of machines that definitely do exist and that we've reported on before, which raise the legitimate issues discussed on this comments board, so your analogies with antimatter warp drives are nonsensical.
Well, I'll defer to you on what's common in the invention business these days. Suffice it to say that I would be mortified to do what is apparently common practice these days -- sending out a press release without a working prototype and being unwilling to answer inquiries from the legitimate press.
As for the "springboard for discussion" argument, we're all imaginative enough that we can discuss the legitimate issues raised by a proposed technology in abstract terms without having to pretend someone has already invented it. If you don't like my warp drive analogy, perhaps a better one would be all the lively discussions out there these days about 3D printing of guns. Nobody, as far was we know, has yet actually "printed" a gun; I think the closest anyone's come is a plastic replica of an AR15 lower receiver, but the idea that it could be possible to print a gun seems to engender a lively discussion that goes all the way to how to regulate such a thing.
I'm happy to discuss the legal and ethical implications of a hypothetical autonomous photographic aerial robot. It's just that as an engineer, I don't have a lot of patience for people who are off trying to sell an idea before they've actually built the thing or for marketeers who put a retail price on it before they have a BOM or a release date.
Yeah. HypeWare for sure. The concept is cute but a quadcopter is not the platform for it. I hate to give these "inventors" any engineering feedback but here are a few issues with it.
1- 5 minute max fly time with current batteries (assuming they add camera and other sensors to the generic quadcopter in the photo :-)
2- Prop noise. Worse than you might think.
3- Peripheral sensing. It's great at a party until it backs into someone's eye.
4- Stability sensors. Put enough onboard to keep from crashing while target tracking and you are back up to, oh I don't know, an AR.Drone! It's hard to get around the power/physics of autonomous flight.
I can't believe that anyone is giving this vapourware product so much press. The quadcopter pizza delivery press release was more technically relevant!
The working prototype is shown in the video. I've been a tech reporter since before the term vaporware was invented and I know why it was invented. I agree about non-response to the legitimate press, but as I said, that's not surprising these days. I think there are a couple of reasons, both leading to overload: The explosion of so-called media outlets online, where zillions of robots--uh, I mean people--rewrite press releases, or don't even bother to rewrite but just post them, and the explosion of people trying to make a fast buck by saying they have a product--and many of them do, since the internet has also led to a boom in self-employment. The upshot is that many of those companies that are legitimate are not PR-savvy in the professional sense and no longer know who the legitimate press are. So they just slap up a website and post a press release. But that's not enough--or even necessary but sufficient--to indicate a vaporware product.
What suddenly became clear is that this particular device is intended as a means to keep one's own actions in focus, sort of like a "video twitter" type of system. Now my question is "who cares?" Unlike the CIA and the FBI, I am really not that interested in watching every move that other folks make, except that while I am driving I do pay more attention to the cars near me. But that is only to keep enough space and avoid any bumps.
So who is so interesting that others want to watch them constantly? Or is this really just for those folks with the ten foot tall egos? Just exactly what group is the intended users of this "amazing" piece of hardware? And does it even exist? even as a single prototype? Or is this an April first item a bit too far in advance?
This is a very interesting post. Great job Ann. My grandkids think I'm older than dirt and just about as interesting as brown grass but, I can see applications that might be more beneficial than just following someone around all day. Of course the amazing thing is the mecatronics involved and functionality of the device. We seem to develop products such as this in a smaller and smaller package. That has to be valuable in a constructive manner at some point and with applications unthought-of of relative to original intent. Again, great post.
Right now I wonder if there is actually anything besides one prototype, and how much additional support does that prototype have beyond what we are seeing. There does not seem to be enough space to carry enough battery power to support all of the smarts claimed for this platform. Not that it wouldn't be a fun toy to have, but I would not wish to tie up my smartphone controlling a toy like that. But a flying camera that could also perch and stare could be either quite useful or lots of fun, and if it had it's own controller then it would be really something. Better than X-Ray vision by quite a bit, in fact.
And as for that back and forth string of insults about creation, my suggestion is to do a detailed study and examination of the DNA system, in the light of fundamental thermodynamics, and then look at the tables of values of energy required for various chemical bonds. Once you understand that, it becomes very evident that unless the basic laws of physics and thermodynamics ran backwards long ago, DNA did not just randomly assemble itself. Really, just consider what happened from an engineering point of view and consider what was required to produce the results that we see.
And looking at that little hand held model, where is there enough battery to fly it for more than a very few minutes?
I suspect you're right, William, about there being only one prototype; but then, that's often the case. Regarding batteries, good question, but I have been surprised at how long many of the palm-sized flying quadrotors we've reported on can last.
William is right about batteries, but there is an alternative. Super caps have the energy to weight ratio needed to support the toy. Fly time, however, will be very limited--perhaps disappointingly so. Cruise time is certain to be under 10 minutes.
Four motor, remotely controlled toy copters exist today, and micro power Cypress PSOCs, like the new PSOC5LP or PSOC4 show that the control, smarts, and communication are available running on a trivial amount of power.
Be aware - The video shows a quadcopter taking off from a hand. That is all. Don't let hype fill in the blanks. Their price/power/capabilites claims are not backed-up by what information they have published. Its lack of sensors is another glaring issue.
curious_device, it's all speculation at this point, but many of your fellow engineers disagree as shown by their comments below. According to your qualifications for what is and isn't hype, several well-known products that clearly exist from large, reputable companies that also clearly exist are all hype, too.
There have been enough comments from actual product engineers saying that the reality of this product is more than a little suspect. How on earth did this vapourware device end up on the cover of the Design News Automation and Control supplement?!?
I would have waited until they show one working, even slightly working, before hyping their product to the max. Seeing it on the cover is just hard to believe!
curious_device, there's at least one working device already: it's shown in the video. And suspecting the reality of a new invention or something one hasn't seen before is certainly understandable. But belief is not required to make something true, a principle that new robot designs keep demonstrating.
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This year, Design News is getting a head start on the Fourth of July celebration. In honor of our country and its legacy of engineering innovation -- in all of its forms -- we are taking you on an alphabetical tour through all 50 states to showcase interesting engineering breakthroughs and historically significant events.
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