Wednesday, December 26, 2012

HoverCam Prepares Launch of World's First "Scanning Camera"

Will the HoverCam Mini become
the new chocolate for road warriors?
With just two weeks to go before the start of CES, Pathway Innovations, Inc. (San Diego, CA) is busy preparing the launch of its much anticipated Mini 5, a new concept in cameras that combines the functions of scanner and camera for road warriors and office use.

"Anticipated" is a generous word - because in the consumer and business world there is no such thing as a "scan camera" that does what the Mini will attempt.  But in the education and professional audio visual (pro-AV) marketplace, the Mini will achieve the status as world's smallest "document camera."  For schools, this type of product is used as a replacement for the overhead projector (OHP) or opaque projector - ask any teacher what an "Elmo" is and they'll tell you it's not a furry Sesame Street Character but a tool for showing worksheets, books, 3-D objects and dissections to students in class. Elmo Corporation of Japan is the 800 lbs. gorilla in the "document camera" market. It's been 3 years since the upstart HoverCam introduced its first USB document camera with twice the performance of an Elmo at one-third the price. In a weak economy with schools concerned about budgets HoverCam sales to the K-12 education market have taken off. Now, here comes the Mini.

The HoverCam Mini 5 plugs directly into
the USB port of a computer without
a USB cable, making it convenient for
use on the road (or in an office).
The Mini incorporates features of a document camera, scanner, camcorder and camera, and fits into a pocket or purse. Despite the small size, the Mini packs powerful features including a true 5 megapixel sensor, resolution high enough to scan documents and use with popular OCR software such as ABBY Fine Reader. Furthermore, the refresh rate is fast enough to allow it to be used to record instructional videos, as a high resolution webcam for showing documents during remote conferencing and to conduct live training session showing new apps on an iPad or a tablet.

In the education market, the Mini is expected to be a hit among teachers who travel from school to school to train, and for administrators including school principals and IT directors.

What about the general business and consumer market? Will the Mini become the new chocolate for road warriors? According to Ji Shen, Pathway's CEO and HoverCam inventor, the Mini is a personal scanner, and he says jokingly, "it's the pathway to the paperless office."  The company has developed software for scanning documents, and includes links to export directly to Evernote, Dropbox, Facebook, YouTube and other Cloud Services.  In addition, the Mini will include software for scanning and managing business cards and receipts.

Is it fair to call the Mini a competitor to the ubiquitous NeatDesk(TM) or NeatReceipts(TM) scanners? No, according to Mr. Shen. "Neat has had several years to develop and perfect its receipt scanning software and we're just beginning. The HoverCam advantage is the versatility of a camera that scans documents and shoots photos and can used with Skype to video conference and and make recordings," he said.  Mr. Shen added,  "The Mini at this stage is a video presentation and quick scanning tool. But, I expect our receipt scanning software to improve with time."

·       Time Savings & Convenience

–    How does it feel waiting when using a traditional flatbed scanner that takes a minute to complete a single scan? The Mini addresses that problem by scanning in a second, and, using the motion sensor or auto timer a user can scan up to 30 items in a minute. In an office, instead of walking to the other side of the building to use a shared scanner, Mini owners will save time and reduce interruptions to their workflow. And, no more fumbling with a smartphone or tablet trying to use its camera as a scanner. With the Mini camera head set into position, scans are quick, accurate and can be filed instantly.

·         More Effective Remote Collaboration
–    During a web conference, ever try holding a document or drawing up to the built-in low resolution webcam of the computer? It was probably hard for people in other locations to see it clearly. Mini 5 attempts to solve that problem by providing crisp, clear images of documents and objects during online meetings and can be used with Skype™, GoToMeeting™, WebEx™ and other online meeting services.

·         Compact Size
–    Mini 5’s footprint takes up very little space on a desktop and is always available when needed to scan, record a video or better explain a concept over the Internet. And, it folds to fit in a pocket, purse or computer bag.

• 5MP Resolution
–      Mini 5 incorporates a 5 megapixel sensor sharp enough to function as a general scanner and to provide crisp clear images easily seen by an audience when used for live presentations of documents, 3D objects or to share images from a tablet or smartphone.

•       Fast Refresh Rate
–      Mini 5 sets a new standard in fast refresh rates for a live 5 MP USB document camera with video speeds of 20 frames per second when set @ HD 720P resolution and 15 fps when set @ 5 MP resolution. This allows for a very clear and smooth image when using the Mini 5 for live presentations or training.

•       Autofocus & Focus Lock Convenience
–      Mini 5 incorporates a tiny auto-focusing CMOS sensor and lens module. From any angle or distance, images become instantly clear. 

•       Laptop or Desktop
–      Mini 5 is designed to be easy to use on the go -- on an airplane, or on the floor of an exposition hall.  Simply plug it directly into a USB port of your laptop or ultrabook -- no cable required.  For even greater flexibility when making a presentation or to connect to a desktop, the Mini’s carry case can be converted into a stand, which connects to a computer with a USB cable. Not just a protective carrying case, the Mini’s protective case converts into a USB docking station. Clever.

·         Receipt Scanning With HoverCam "Memo" Software
–      HoverCam Memo™  software allows any receipt to be scanned with the click of the mouse or, using the motion trigger function, with the wave of your hand, allowing you to scan a pile of receipts quickly.  Generate expense reports and monthly analyses instantly.  Scan and organize in the Archive folder anything including notes, checks, invoices, mobile phone & tablet screen shots, diary pages, video clips, household inventory, and more. Upload scanned images and video directly to cloud services such as Evernote™, Dropbox ™, Facebook™ and YouTube™.

•       HoverCam Contact
–      Hover Contact™ software functions as a digital Rolodex allowing you to capture, store, review and manage all of your contacts. You can even connect with them automatically via Facebook or LinkedIn.

The company says the HoverCam Mini 5 will begin shipping in Q2 and is now taking reservations to purchase in April. The price is $299. The product will be available to the education market through a network of education specialist resellers and to the general business and consumer market through numerous resellers and online stores. For additional information, please visit the company's website

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.

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