Business Day


When a Camcorder Becomes a Life Partner

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YOU can shoot compelling video these days even when you have your hands full.

A tiny camcorder called the Looxcie, left, loops over the ear

Ronda Churchill/Bloomberg News

A GoPro camera was worn at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Small, lightweight, hands-free cameras — worn on a headband, for example, or tucked over an ear — will record life’s memorable moments as they unfold, even if you are busy holding your infant son or erupting in cheers at your daughter’s basketball game. And by attaching one of these cameras to your snowboard, you can even capture your own amazing race down a mountainside.

Cameras worn on helmets or harnesses have been popular during the last decade for specialized uses like skydiving or auto racing. But a new generation of devices that cost around $200, some of them recording in high-definition, may move wearable cameras into the mainstream, offering a new dimension in first-person documentation.

The cameras are likely to be very popular for both business and recreational use, said Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor at Harvard Law School and a co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. “People will put them on and wear them everywhere,” he predicted.

Police officers and building inspectors, for example, may don wearable cameras to document their interactions and observations. Autobiographers may use them to capture all that they see as they wander about each day, and the absent-minded may find them helpful in recalling where they left the car keys.

The GoPro HD Hero 960 ($179.99), introduced in late September, records high-definition video at 1,280 x 960 pixels and 30 frames a second. This small cube of a camera — it’s less than two inches high — snaps into a waterproof case. Combined, the camera and case weigh less than six ounces, said Nicholas Woodman, founder and chief executive of GoPro in Half Moon Bay, Calif. The lens can capture photos or video at an ultrawide, 170-degree angle, and the camera comes with a headband as well as plastic plates that can attach it to flat or curved surfaces.

The initial GoPro cameras were marketed for sports, beginning with a wrist-worn, film-based version for surfers in 2004. But since then, GoPro’s evolving line has proved to have hundreds of other applications that the company never imagined, Mr. Woodman said.

“We usually learn about them when we see the videos on YouTube or on CNN,” he said. Recently, for example, the staff clustered around a laptop to view video captured by a GoPro camera fastened to the elevator rescuing the trapped Chilean miners.

The Looxcie ($199), a small wearable camcorder introduced recently, loops over the ear. The camera is built into a Bluetooth headset that streams digital images wirelessly to Android phones that use a free Looxcie app. From there, the clips can go directly to e-mail, said Romulus Pereira, chief executive of Looxcie, which is based in Sunnyvale, Calif. Soon the company will offer apps that make the camera compatible with other smartphones, he said.

The Looxcie is not a high-definition camera. It records at a resolution of 480 x 320 pixels at 15 frames a second. But it has a special button that makes it ideal for taking video of unexpected moments, Mr. Pereira said. When the camera is running in continuous-capture mode, and the wearer suddenly sees a goal scored at a hockey game, for instance, a quick push of the button will tell the camera to automatically save a clip of the preceding 30 seconds. Then the footage of the puck sailing into the net can be preserved and automatically e-mailed to friends. The camera weighs about an ounce and stores up to five hours of video, he said.

Michael Duplay, the technology director at the Stark County Park District in Ohio, recently tucked his Looxcie over his ear so it could record his first-person views of a walk in the woods. He also shot a video while he was driving, then sent the evidence of his car’s veering motion to his father for an expert analysis. (Dad diagnosed an alignment problem.)

As wearable cameras gain popularity, and as some amateur auteurs capture candid images of people with no wish to star on the Internet, the devices are sure to raise privacy and other issues, said Professor Zittrain of Harvard. “What will we do then?” he asked. “Ban them at basketball games and recitals?”

With proper procedures, though, the cameras could yield a trove of valuable evidence, helping future historians analyze what life was like in 2010. “We have painstakingly reconstructed ancient civilizations based on pottery and a few tablets,” he said. “I would love to leave this legacy instead.”


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