A Tiny Video Camera That Never Forgets

You've just entered a local doughnut shop when what do you see? Elvis is walking out with a handful of crullers and a powdered-sugar mustache?

If only you had a digital camera.

Yes, small camcorders and digital still cameras are now consumer staples. And the more recent addition of tiny digital cameras as built-in features on cell phones and other mobile devices may mean portable photography is becoming truly ubiquitous.

But now a tiny startup is putting a whole new face on mobile photography.

Deja View, of Brick, N.J., says it will soon produce the Camwear 100, a digital video camera about an inch long and smaller than a nickel in diameter.

The lipstick container-sized camera can be worn, as the name implies, by unobtrusively clipping it to a pair of eyeglasses or on a baseball cap's bill. And the camera sends its images to a cell phone-sized device worn on a person's hip.

But what makes the Deja View camera setup unique, says company President Sid Reich, is the software that controls how the whole device works.

"The camera is constantly monitoring what you see," explains Reich. "When you see something occur that you want to keep, you hit the 'record' button and the last 30 seconds of what the camera saw is recorded onto a tiny removable memory card."

The captured video can then be downloaded into a Windows-based or Macintosh computer for editing and playback. Or for simple display, the device can be connected to any TV or VCR with standard audio-video connections.

Less Boring Home Videos?

The idea for the camera, Reich says, came from his own frustrating experiences of using a video camera to record his son's Little League baseball games.

"It's become accepted that if you tape something like a school play or your kid's soccer game, you're going to tape for two hours," says Reich. "But most things that happen in your life that are memorable are short events — and often at times when you least expect it."

And he figures the product will have a broad appeal for the moms and pops that just want to capture the highlights of such events.

"You're watching the game just like you normally would and when the kid makes a great play — a great catch or a slide into third base and he's safe — you've got it," says Reich. "You get to live in the moment instead of watching through a viewfinder of a camcorder."

Devices like the Camwear were "inevitable," given that such technology has been in development for quite some time, explains Tim Bajarin, president and founder of a computer technology consulting firm called Creative Strategies in Campbell, Calif.

"At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they've been researching 'e-wear' — wearable electronics and computers — for years," says Bajarin. "And although Deja View isn't a computer, per se, it's the promise of helping you to remember what you've seen or heard in 30 second chunks."

Adds Bajarin: "It has the appeal to the techies and gadget freaks in all of us. We've all had those moments or places where we see something and just wish we had a video camera or a 35-mm camera handy, rather than fumble around for one."

A Memory Aid or Voyeur's Tool?

But can the Deja View camera — expected to cost around $300 to $500 — really take off in the mainstream consumer market?

Most consumer cameras, for example, offer telephoto and instant playback capabilities that aren't yet possible on Deja View camera. And videotapes offer up to two hours of continuous recording capabilities, while the removable memory cards limit Deja View to only between 16 and 256 clips, each 30 seconds in length.

More worrisome, however, are privacy issues. Already, tiny digital cameras on cell phones are coming under closer scrutiny since some have been used to clandestinely watch people in places such as public restrooms and locker rooms.

Reich says the company is aware of such negative stigma. But he says the Deja View camera isn't all that tiny when compared to some of the more clandestine devices currently used by electronic peeping toms.

"We've purposely made it non-covert. We made the camera visible and the hip pack visible," says Reich. "If someone wants to use it for covert stuff, there are a lot of other, smaller devices — wireless — that they can spend their money on. But it's never our intention to make [Camwear] for covert recordings."

Wait and See

Bajarin, meanwhile, sees a better market among special "vertical" segments — such as the law enforcement community.

Indeed, Reich says in addition to developing units to show to consumer electronics chains, his company is also furiously trying to produce enough test units for police and security agencies.

"If a police officer sees someone driving erratically, he'd hit the record button and the evidence of the person doing the nasty deed is captured," says Reich. "We also see a big market with people working with national security who would use it similar to the way police would. The interest has been unbelievable."

Reich says the company has raised about $500,000 in private funding to develop prototypes of the cameras. But, it's also in the process of raising the estimated $5 million needed to ramp up production and hopefully begin distribution to mass market retail chains before the end of the year.