Monday 31 January 2011

The most advanced 360 degree video in the world

An amazing innovation
Several cameras are fitted under a helicopter, recording high quality video in every direction.

They capture the view as the chopper swoops into ravines, skims along river beds and arches over mountain peaks. The serenity of wilderness lakes and the drama of ancient glaciers are burnt to hard drive in astonishing detail, from a perspective few people will enjoy for themselves.

(Btw, I know data isn't really 'burnt' to hard drive!)

The real innovation, however, is in harnessing the latest computer processing power to knit millions of frames of video together. The result is the ability to create a seamless view - up and down, side to side and forward and back.

The pilots could simply have posted a video of the view looking forwards from the cockpit as the helicopter navigated this stunning landscape. But instead this lets you relive the experience... if you had been in the cockpit.

As if you had been there, looking around as they flew.

Try it for yourself!

Click 'play', view full screen and then click and hold the screen. If you move to the left it is as if your head is turning to the left. Look down as you soar over the jagged mountain ridge! Look back as you speed over cobalt blue cracks in the glacier.

Why do I like this?
Possibly because it combines many of my favourite things, including aviation (as you now know, from a recent post!), mountains, glaciers, forests, rivers, photography - well, video - and the innovative use of cutting edge technology.

However, I think the lesson about innovation is not that you always need to invent new things - but that you can seek to use others' inventions creatively.

What could 360 degree video do for your fundraising or marketing?
You cannot let (most) supporters wander round a lab, visit an agriculture project in the Andes, walk through a deprived inner city estate or dive on an endangered reef.

Photos simply cannot impress upon a donor what "the volcano has destroyed this town" means. I tried to capture a sense of it when I had the privilege of visiting Goma one week after the 2002 eruption to witness emergency relief by local NGOs ... but mere images can't convey the devastation...

I can think of a few charities that are already pushing in this direction. Take charity:water ('give one person clean water for $20'), for example, which broke new ground when it tweeted links to live videos of bore holes breaking into aquifers, bringing water to a village for the first time. Or PDSA, which created a virtual tour of an animal hospital to show what a donor's money could buy.

But photos - and even someone else's videos - are just so two-dimensional.

The donor is not there.

At last the technology is advancing, increasingly rapidly, to make it possible to put them at the centre of your work.

How do you approach innovation? And how do you harness other people's innovation, such as this?

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Know what you're about

In a classic piece of 'you'd-be-forgiven-for-thinking-this-is-bad-timing', I got back into running last year, just as the snow was starting!

Ignoring the cold weather, I'm getting into running in a more serious way than I have before. This is partly by following a really strict training schedule, prescribing exactly how I run, for how long and on which days. But it is also by monitoring heart rate and distance.

Push yourself too hard and you burn out - the reason so many New Years resolutions fizzle out.

Push yourself just enough and your body does amazing things! Like getting in better shape gradually.

And so, in my thirst for heart rate and distance data, I entered the market for a heart rate monitor.

I was really impressed by Polar's reputation and marketing. Including this video that does nothing more than explain the product and position Polar as the expert in the field.

Polar's strapline - listen to your body - shows how single-minded they are in aiming at this niche market. And it is clear that they know what they're about.

It made me reflect: how single-minded am I on what I'm about - and how single-minded is my organisation in what we're about in the minds of our audience? What about you?

Anyway, as it happens, and for all Polar's effort, I went for a Garmin! Which at the very least tells you that your consumer (or supporter for that matter) is hard to win over.

Monday 3 January 2011


As some friends and colleagues know, I'm something of an aviation 'enthusiast'.

Er, to the point where on a trip to Zimbabwe last summer I flew a Boeing 747 on my laptop flight simulator into Johannesburg while the real Boeing 747 I was in flew into Johannesburg (arousing slight alarm in a fellow passenger sat nearby)...

Anyway, ask me sometime and I'll bore you with industry trends, technological advances and simply why flying is so amazing.

The point of this post, to kick off 2011, is to sound an aviation-inspired cautionary note: don't let your pride get in the way of your judgement.

I was saddened to read of the accident on 28 July last year in which a C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane of the US Air Force crashed during a practice flight for an air show.

A report published in December concluded that the pilot pushed the boundaries of safe flying just too far - apparently disregarding the safety of the three crew flying with him.

The following video shows the flight from take off until a few moments before impact.

The plane ascends very steeply, much slower than the USAF's stated minimum speed. It levels off at only half the required altitude. It banks to the left at 60 degrees (the USAF's maximum is 45) and then to the right at the same angle.

During this final manoeuvre the speed had dropped significantly below the stall speed (when the wings can no longer keep the plane in the air), triggering audible warnings in the cockpit. The pilot routinely ignored these warnings and told others to do the same, saying they were inaccurate. But this stall was serious and the co-pilot warned him three times about the loss of control.

For some reason he left it too late to try to correct the mistake.

It was not even as if this was without precedent. This video shows a B-52 bomber crashing in 1994 in a similar way while practicing for an air show. The pilot broke similar safety regulations and he also died with three crew members.

So what are the lessons for you?
First, put yourself in the place of the pilots. Pushing boundaries is very important in any field if you are to outperform your competitors. But not listening to your own judgement - or the judgement of others - on when to stop is foolish.

Was it pride that led to these crashes? Maybe. "I'm not going to listen to them; what do they know? I'll show them..."

The lesson is clear.

But now put yourself in the place of these pilots' leaders. In both crashes the blame was placed equally on pilot error and on the USAF culture that allowed such disregard for regulations, just because the pilots in question were outstanding.

There is surely some echo here of what happened in the risk-taking culture of the financial markets pre-recession.

The lesson is less obvious here but one practical example comes to mind because I dealt with this just before Christmas. If you manage a team, do you take responsibility for ensuring that everyone with laptops has passwords enabled? No? What would happen, therefore, if one of them lost their laptop and the data on it was stolen?

If you're the pilot
The strongest lesson, however, must be for each of us in our own roles.

I am ultimately responsible for performing the job I have been given. How aware am I of my pride? How well do I listen to my own judgement or that of others?

As we head into an even more challenging economic environment in the UK, with austerity measures beginning to bite, can you balance prudence with ambition? Especially if - as in our case - you have bucked the trend of previous years?