On the whole, we know what cameras are supposed to look like. There are all sorts of variations in design and implementation, of course, but in essence we expect a body shape that's designed to be used hand-held, with a lens at the front, a large screen for viewing on the back, and a shutter button on top. It's really not often that anyone tries to do something substantially different with the basic concept. But this is exactly what a UK company called OMG Life has done with its device called the Autographer - billed as the 'world's first intelligent wearable camera'. How could we not be intrigued?

The Autographer is basically a small black box, about half the size of a shirt-pocket compact camera, that's designed to be worn on a neckstrap or clipped to your clothing. It has a custom-designed semi-fisheye lens with a 136° ultra-wideangle view, a 5MP sensor, and has built-in GPS and Bluetooth. But what is really interesting (and unique) is that it uses five sensors to decide automatically when to take a picture - an accelerometer to determine whether it's moving, a colour sensor, a magnetometer (i.e. compass), a thermometer, and a PIR proximity sensor. No pressing of a shutter button is required. After capture the images can be used as single frames, or compiled into stop-motion movies.

This may all sound like hocus-pocus, but OMG Life is a spin-off from image capture specialists Oxford Metrics Group, so has some pedigree. The initial concept was in fact medical, as a therapeutic aid for patients suffering from amnesia or Alzheimer's disease (the device was known as the Vicon Revue). This doesn't prove anything about how well the camera works in practice, of course, but does suggest that there should be something behind the idea.

Autographer key specs

  • 5MP sensor
  • 3mm 1:3.2 ultra-wideangle fixed-focus lens; 136° angle of view; glass hybrid construction
  • Automatic shooting based on input from five sensors
  • 8GB built-in memory (stores up to 28,000 images)
  • Built-in GPS
  • Bluetooth for communication with smartphone
  • Built-in battery, charges over USB
  • 90mm x 37.4mm x 22.9mm
  • 58g

The Autographer isn't the only automatic, wearable camera around: there's also the Memoto, which is superficially quite similar. But there are several key differences; the Memoto doesn't attempt to be 'intelligent', but merely takes a picture every 30 seconds for 'lifelogging'. It uses a narrower angle lens, and is sealed for use in wet weather (the Autographer isn't). Memoto is also designed so that all captured images are automatically uploaded to the company's servers for processing and organisation when the camera is plugged into a computer, and there's no other way to access them - a model some potential users may well be uncomfortable with using.

Image access - smartphone and desktop apps

Autographer uses 8GB of built-in memory that can store up to 28,000 images, which means that the software used to access, sort and process them is pretty important. Two options are available - a free smartphone app (currently iOS only, but with an Android version in development) and a desktop app for Windows and Mac. The latter can be installed directly from the device when you plug it into your computer. Both offer similar options; you can view individual images as stills, play through them as a sequence, and turn them into stop-motion movies. We'll look at them in more detail later.

Etiquette

With this type of device, there are inevitable concerns over etiquette and privacy. It's not obviously a camera, takes pictures without any user intervention, and is also distinctly unobtrusive. So you have to be considerate about how you use it.

In a charmingly British fashion, the camera comes with a little card reminding you of all this, and offering guidelines for usage. It suggests that you familiarise yourself with local customs when visiting a new country, and offer to delete images from your device if unwitting subjects voice any objection. Hopefully this will sound like common sense to most people.

Availability and pricing

The Autographer is sold purely through the company's website, www.autographer.com, for £299.99. OMG Life will ship it to most European countries (UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden), but not, for the moment, the USA. We're told that US sales should start in a couple of months.