The technology revolution of the last two or three decades, and particularly the development of the cellular telephone and the internet, have forever changed how we go about our daily private and business lives.
New technology has also had a profound effect on the camera. The day is coming – sooner than we may like or expect – when just about everything we do will be captured on a camera of some kind and will be a matter of public record. We already see examples of this every day – some of it good, some of it not so good.
On the good side, the recent hijacking of a RAV4 in the middle of Johannesburg was caught on camera and led to the arrest and appearance in court of four men. Today’s smart phones have high definition cameras and video capability, and everyone with one of these devices is a photographer or cameraman.
More disturbing are the images that have appeared in SA recently of schoolchildren attacking teachers or being bullied by schoolmates. That is the dark side of advances in technology that is also having a major impact on the photographic industry, and putting growing pressure on newspaper photographers.
A visit to You Tube or other social media platforms opens up a world that is newsworthy, full of humour, interesting and sometimes downright bizarre. Recent offerings include a Boeing crash dive and a spectacular meteor explosion that were captured by dashboard cameras owned by Russian motorists. And there are compelling reasons why South African motorists should follow the Russian example and rush out and buy one of these devices.
There is nothing really new about dash cams. Law enforcement agencies in the US and other countries have been using dashboard-mounted cameras and cameras attached to clothing for years.
Why the sudden interest in dash cams, and why should South Africans follow the example of more than one million motorists in Russia, and install dash cams in their cars? A motorist interviewed on Al Jazeera said Russians believed that law enforcement officers were on the roads only to takes bribes, and bend or ignore traffic laws to suit themselves. That sounds pretty much like a South African perception of our own traffic officers. For Russians, a dash cam is a means of avoiding false accusations, and is the only way to substantiate claims in a court of law.
That, however, is only one aspect of the case for installing a dash cam. The Arrive Alive organisation says technology is making a significant contribution towards safer roads, safer vehicles and the “ability to measure and evaluate driver behaviour”.
Arrive Alive points out that there are many reasons why installing a dash cam is a good idea. They are a “perfect eyewitness” in the case of an accident, and provide a mechanism to fight corruption and fraud where accidents and injuries are often faked.
Dash cams are also useful tools for fleet managers and can monitor the company vehicle driver. Devices with GPS capability can provide feedback on the route and speed travelled, and there is nowhere for the dangerous or careless driver to hide.
Parents are always a little wary of lending the family car to their little darlings, and the dash cam is the perfect way of monitoring and promoting responsible driving by teenagers. This can be carried a little further by using dash or windscreen mounted cameras to report bad drivers, and to promote and add value to road safety education programmes.
Dash cams could also play a role in supporting insurance claims and apportioning blame after accidents. Arrive Alive also speculates that insurance companies could soon offer “pay as you tape” type products similar to “pay as you drive” offers, or discounts for motorists who have their vehicles fitted with tracking devices.
Dash cams, like most other electronic gadgets on the market these days, vary in cost and capability. Most are forward facing, but dual lens cameras that record front and back are gaining in popularity, as are infra red cameras that offer clear night images.
But before you rush out and buy a dash cam you might like to wait until a device being developed by American company Bubl comes onto the market.
Bubl says 360-degree cameras that shoot footage on a horizontal plane aren’t much good if a subject “sails overhead”. A tennis ball sized camera being developed by Bubl has four cameras arranged in a “tetrahedral layout” that provides a more complete view of the world around you. The software is similar to Google’s Street View and the Bublcam could be the dashboard item of the future.