Saturday, November 17, 2012

Upstart HoverCam Stakes Out Leadership Position in "Document Camera" Market

HoverCam "scanning cameras" are made by a feisty, bootstrapped, start-up company out of San Diego, CA called Pathway Innovations. Three years ago, Pathway was just two guys in a garage with a new type of "scan camera" - a camera on a stand with software that took a high-resolution picture of a document in a second, much faster than traditional flat-bed scanners.  In January 2010 Pathway exhibited at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and sold a few units. At the end of the show, a visitor approached Ji Shen, the founder and inventor, and suggested, "You ought to be in education." Then, the light bulb went off and the company changed directions approached the school market where every classroom and every teacher in the world could use one of its HoverCams. There was a market for such products already called "document cameras," and there was an 800 lb. gorilla making them: Elmo Corporation of Japan. But the HoverCam concept was different. The traditional products were like "mainframes" -- they were large, expensive and hooked up directly to a projector.  But the HoverCam was small, cost just $199, connected to a computer, and used software to become an all-in-one, multifunctional device to teach, scan, record voice & video, Web conference and even grade tests. Every teacher who saw one wanted one, and the company has since grown to more than 50 people and opened a factory in China to keep up with demand.  Sales doubled in 2012 and are expected to double, or more, in 2013 according to Mr. Shen.
From (L), the "Mini", the world's small-
est document camera, (C) the Neo with
two cameras, (R) the Solo, world's fastest
5 mega pixel document camera.

The company makes a bold claim it is the technology leader in the document camera market for schools and the products it has developed seem to back it up. After shipping the first high resolution, USB document cameras 3 years ago, the company has developed the world's smallest document camera (the so-called Mini) which fits in a pocket and will begin shipping in Q1 2013. It developed a book scanning product called the Impress that scans books automatically and won a 2012 CES "Innovation Award." Earlier this year, the company began shipments of Neo 3, the first "document camera" to incorporate a two-camera design, that supports the concept of the "flipped classroom" by giving teachers the ability to easily create video content with the two cameras showing picture-in-picture, or to use the second camera when web conferencing. The company's latest introduction is the Solo 5, and its claim to fame is the world's fastest 5 mega pixel USB document camera for schools.

Like it's predecessor, the Solo 5 is also an all-in-one USB document camera targeted for the school market that allows teachers to present, scan, record voice and video and grade multiple choice tests.  Solo 5 offers twice the performance of HoverCam’s best-selling T3 and has the world’s fastest refresh rate of any true 5 mega pixel document camera, which means no more blurry images. In addition, the shooting area is A3 size which is much larger than its previous cameras and more practical for teachers.

Traditional "document camera" before advent of the HoverCam.
One of HoverCam's strong features has always been its software, called HoverCam Flex.  The software allows instructors to easily crop and capture images, zoom, rotate, annotate, record, manage documents, share via email or cloud services and even connect over the Internet with another HoverCam user anywhere in the world (this is the "HoverCam Connect" feature). The Solo 5 is compatible with leading interactive whiteboards and may be used with remote conferencing software including Skype™, Go To Meeting™ and WebEx™.  Other advanced features include a flip-up, fully rotating camera head, auto focus and the ability to tilt the arm to just an inch above an object for super close-ups that until now where possible only with document cameras costing hundreds of dollars more.

HoverCam Solo 5 (L) in closed
position. When opened, it has a
fully rotating camera head which
may be used as a webcam or
pointed down to scan or display
hi-res images of documents or
solid objects.
Each Solo 5 includes a one-year complimentary license of HoverCam’s GradeCentral™ software, which saves teachers time and provides student assessment quickly and easily. Solo 5 folds up to a compact size and is powered by a USB cable, so it is easy to move around and set-up. Because the foot-print is so small, it may be kept on the desk ready for immediate use anytime. More than just a document camera, the Solo 5 is a cost effective, multifunctional device for education that assists every teacher convey concepts more effectively, increase student engagement and save time capturing and managing documents.

The Solo 5 for education is priced at $269 and is available for purchase from the HoverCam's website and through a network of authorized education resellers.  For additional information and to test drive a unit, contact the manufacturer at

The table below provides a summary of Solo 5  features & benefits:

Key Features

5 MP resolution (2592 x 1944) sensor with Auto Focus and Auto Focus Lock
Capture and display clear images, so students at the back of the room can see small type on a full page document. With such high resolution, Solo 5 may also be used as a scanner to scan articles and student papers. Auto Focus makes it easier for teachers to set up and use.

Fast refresh rate of up to 25 frames/second at HD 720p resolution and UXGA 1200 X 1600
Display clear images with little blurring or delay, the Solo 5 may also be used to create instructional videos for “flipped learning” and for remote conferencing.

A3 shooting area
Capture and display images up to 17” x 22” including legal size and both pages of an open book.

Reticulated folding arm provides 12 mechanical zoom
Position camera head 1” above an object to show clear close-up shots desired in science classes. To achieve such clarity and level of zoom typically costs hundreds of dollars more. On top of that, 16X digital zoom.

HoverCam Flex software
Intuitive, easy to use software for zooming, manipulating images, capturing images, annotation, recording and sharing documents, videos, photos and content created. Ideal tool for "flipped" classroom instruction.

Multi-functional, all-in-one design
Incorporates key features of multiple devices into one HoverCam for scanning, grading, recording voice and video and live presentations providing a cost-effective tool for every classroom with a fast payback in instructor enthusiasm, improved delivery and increased student engagement. Cost effective alternative to Elmo brand products.

One-year GradeCentral™ software license included
Saves instructor time compared to grading by hand and provides immediate results compared to walking to another building to drop off tests at a ScanTron™ type of machine. GradeCentral allows teachers and schools to create test keys, score tests and analyze results.  Data capture may be easily exported to the school’s SIS.

Quick Keys
Use the quick keys on the base to snap an image, zoom in and out, freeze frame and snap to focus.

USB Interface
Just plug the USB cable from Solo 5 into the computer and you’re ready to use it immediately as the device is USB powered. Software is embedded in the unit so it's not necessary to download from the web. As a USB device, captured images may be drag and dropped into the window of any software program, including interactive whiteboard software and Microsoft Office™ applications. Use HoverCam's Whiteboard Connector software to display live video on any IAWB.

Full disclosure: The writer has 20 years experience in the education technology marketplace and has been an importer and distributor of document cameras made in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. In the past, he was product manager of a business development project that included Elmo Corporation and is currently a consultant to Pathway Innovations, manufacturer of The HoverCam. The opinions expressed are his own, unless noted otherwise. Specifications and pricing are subject to change, but were accurate at the time of writing.