UPDATE: A friend of mine told me about an article on the New York Times about a floating drone the army’s working on! Automatic photo acquisition technology is closer than we think.
When you are mass producing something repeatedly, you absolutely want automation as much as possible. Machines typically produce less error and are more consistent than humans for very specific tasks. But when you can’t, for one reason or another, going for either crowd sourcing or tribe sourcing makes a heap of sense. This doesn’t mean that automation has no place — it means automation takes on a different role.
Let’s be a bit more specific.
In my context, I’m talking about taking ba-zillitons of photographs from a human perspective (as opposed to a satellite perspective) and making sense of it for users. There are companies like Google, EveryScape, Microsoft, Tele Atlas, and NavTeq, that go around photographing the world for online use. Let’s focus on photographic data collection as a “case study” for this blog.
So the right set of questions in this context may be: Can we automate the picture-taking process? If not, can we tap into the crowd? How about creating a tribe?
Well, automating the photography of the entire world would be tough. One future solution could be to create lots of robots that walk, drive, or fly around acquiring and geotagging pictures. NERD ALERT! Remember Star Wars Episode 1, where Darth Maul sent out floating droids in Tatooween to find Princess Amidala? Something like that. Unfortunately, we don’t have these droids yet. (Can someone get on that???)
So, when automation isn’t possible, the next question is: Can we crowd source? I’m not certain if we can crowd source this yet either, since car-mounted camera systems aren’t something we can buy at Best Buy. I don’t think it’s that far off either. We may see panoramic cameras mounted on taxis — what I call cab sourcing — for instance. There are a few logistical, business-related, and technical issues that needs to be solved before this can happen, but why not?
Microsoft’s Photosynth harnesses the power of the crowd to make sense of a real place, but it’s yet to be seen that this technology can conquer the world. (In fact, I’m looking forward to a new research publication coming out this September).
Tribe sourcing is the viable solution for now — find leadership, enable and incentivize the tribe to go out and photograph the world according to some plan. Google has the cash to create (quite wonderfully equipped) cars and have folks drive around. EveryScape’s found a cost-effective solution for this to tribe source (a.k.a. The Ambassador Program).
Until automation can happen, photographic data collection happens with tribes (or crowds). Automation plays a role in that pictures are taken, geotagged, oriented, stitched, and processed automatically.