Our new Swivl presenter tracking system arrived yesterday, to great excitement in this office (well, from me anyway!) Judging by the fact that a Google search brings up no other UK reviews yet, I’m guessing this is probably one of the first in the country – unsurprising as Satarii, makers of the device, are only shipping to US addresses for the moment.
So, what is it? Satarii describe it as a ‘personal cameraman’ allowing you to video yourself and remain in the frame as you move around. Essentially it comprises a motorised pan /tilt base and a wearable wireless ‘marker’ device which the base tracks. You can mount pretty much any lightweight video device in the clamp on the base, such as smartphones, Flip-style mini camcorders, or even webcams. In the pic you can see a Panasonic TA1 camcorder on the base, chosen because it can function as a USB webcam as well. If you combine the Swivl with an iPhone 4 / 4s or 4th gen iPod Touch, there is additional functionality (which we’ve not tested yet) by virtue of the Swivl app available through the App Store. Better still, with these iPhone / iPod variants you also get the benefit of the wearable marker also functioning as a high quality wireless microphone.
But even without these additional features, the basic functionality available in combination with a mini camcorder is pretty darn impressive. It does what it claims to do, with minimum fuss. Within 5 minutes of removing the kit from the packaging, I’d got it up and running and was demonstrating it to colleagues.
The base unit takes two AA cells (supplied) although an AC power supply is available separately. The marker device takes two AAA cells, also supplied, and as you’d expect (!) there is no mains option for this. With the batteries installed, the next step is to attach your video device to the clamp, either directly in the case of a smartphone or standard webcam, or using a tripod mount adaptor (supplied) in the case of a mini camcorder. The base unit itself can be placed securely on any flat surface and its rubberised grip prevents it from slipping – or it can be attached to a tripod as it has a standard socket on the underside.
Turn the base unit and the marker on and these are automatically ‘paired’. The marker can be attached to your lapel via a sturdy tie-clip. If you are using a mini camcorder, you’ll need to press record on the camcorder – or if you’re using a compatible iPhone / iPod Touch with the app installed, you can start / stop the recording remotely from the marker.
Our first trials in this office established that (a) unless you run (!), the base unit does an excellent job of tracking you smoothly, and (b) that the range is at least 30 feet. Of course, we still need to test Swivl in anger to see what glitches might arise in real-world use, but I’m not anticipating any problems.
There are lots of possibilities for exploiting the device in interesting ways in education, including (as Satarii themselves suggest) making it available to students as well as academics. We’ve already tried it today combined with a standard webcam as an input device to the Blackboard Collaborate web conferencing tool, and you can see how this might be useful for hybrid face to face / online sessions, ie to record a presenter moving around the front of a teaching room. We will also be testing it with the software only variant of our campus lecture capture system, Echo360 (known here as ReVIEW).
For a $179 device from a tiny start-up company, Swivl is something of a triumph, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop this further.
For further details see www.swivl.com . UK readers should note that Satarii are only shipping to US addresses for the moment so you would need to use a package forwarding service (as we did) to buy one.
I’ll be posting a follow-up review with sample videos in due course.