I've been curious about sousveillance ever since I Wiki-walked into the neologistic concept, which is broadly defined as "the recording of an activity by a participant in the activity." A simple example might be the Russian dashboard cameras that have yielded a fair share of viral footage, but the term is broad enough to include the now-ubiquitous cameraphone, an ever-ready recording device in situations of crisis, civil unrest and a laundry list of otherwise unusual situations (see also: Google Glass).
Of course, the former example is the inspiration for a new project on Kickstarter by Los Angeles-based mechanical engineer Cedric Bosch. Like a helmet, the Rideye is a safety device that a savvy cyclist might use in hope of never needing to do so. But in the event of a crash, the handlebar-mounted HD camera is expressly designed to capture footage of the incident in order to present an objective account of what happened.
Guest appearance by Iggy Pop aside, the ABC Los Angeles news segment covers several valid points regarding the black box camera concept (Slowtwitch has a more in-depth look at the product itself). If the Rideye catches on, it's a perfect example of how monitoring could make the streets safer for everyone: As with red light cameras, the possibility that one might be caught in the act serves as negative reinforcement in order to discourage reckless driving. The mere suggestion of sous/surveillance exploits the Hawthorne effect to prevent—or at least document and punish—illicit behavior.1
Even so, a courier notes that the Rideye is only useful if it can reliably capture license plate numbers... which brings us back to traffic enforcement cameras, the most well-known (and controversial) application of Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology. I don't know if it would be possible to incorporate a reliable, accurate real-time OCR software into the black box device, but it would most certainly strike fear into the heart of any petty scofflaw.
The Rideye will run for 24 hours on a single charge.
Meanwhile, the $149 MSRP (currently $119 on Kickstarter) isn't that much less than, say, a GoPro, which is intrinsically more versatile than the Rideye.2 Point taken that it's used for a fundamentally different purpose—the black box has upwards of ten times the battery life—but I still think the pricepoint is too high to achieve the adoption rate that would be needed for the Rideye to have any kind of impact on transit culture. In other words, it will take a certain proportion of cam-equipped cyclists on the streets, threatening or filing lawsuits as needed, for impudent drivers to even consider that the unsuspecting victim of their next right hook might have an ace in the hole.
Not that the pricing has discouraged a healthy contingent of early adopters: Bosch, a recent grad, has pre-sold his product to over 300 customers with about a week to go in his campaign, achieving more than double his $32,000 funding goal. Check out Rideye on Kickstarter to learn more and get ahold of one by March 2014.3
It comes down to this: Cyclists need the black box for the very same reasons that Russian drivers do. Transgressive motorists get away with life-endangering activity on a regular basis. Just as it doesn't take much to save a life (turn signal please), it's all too easy to take one away.
On that note:
1.) Case in point: The GoPro'd skirmish between a swarm of motorcyclists and an SUV driver that made headlines last week; see also this surreal scuffle between a cyclist and an angry mob. If non-New Yorkers find these scenes disturbing and vaguely apocalyptic, rest assured that they're freak occurrences. That said, the vast majority encounters of this nature will continue to go unrecorded and unreported, at least until black boxes become commonplace. [back]
2.) Although a quick search reveals that the Best Dash Cam for Your Car Costs $60, it's safe to assume that the rechargeable battery accounts for much the added cost of the portable cycling accessory. [back]
3.) Someone needs to come up with a multipurpose cycling accessory that incorporates a black box, a headlight & horn—which would illuminate license plates at night—and a clever navigation system; make it theft-proof and figure out how to get it under $200 retail and you'd have yourself a killer product indeed. [back]