New Swivl “robotic cameraman” will support tablets and SLRs. Have a say in the feature set!

by Dave Etchells

posted Friday, January 11, 2013 at 1:10 PM EDT

How often have you wished you could pan, tilt, and control your camera remotely, without spending a small fortune to do it? A solution is on the way from Satarii, creator of the Swivl.

The original Swivl is a clever, puck-shaped device that holds a smartphone or other device weighing less than six ounces, and acts as a "robotic cameraman" to help with your shooting. Using a small "marker" that you carry, it can follow your movements to keep you on-camera, swiveling 360 degrees, and tilting 10 degrees up or 20 degrees down. You can also control its movements remotely from an iPhone or iPad.

The original Swivl was hugely popular, but Satarii received a lot of requests for a version that could support a tablet or a proper camera, as well as the ability to work with Android devices. It now appears that a model meeting both needs is on its way.

The new Swivl works with digital SLRs, and can be remotely controlled from a tablet.

I had the chance yesterday to spend a little time talking with Brian Lamb, co-founder of Satarii, and co-inventor of the Swivl. He showed me a working prototype of the new SLR-capable version, and talked about some of the directions they're hoping to take their technology.

The new version will not only move the camera, but control it as well, via a built-in USB port. The Swivl SLR control app lets you frame the shot using a remote preview display, adjust settings to whatever extent permitted by the camera, and fire the shutter. Special multi-view modes can do such things as manage time-lapse exposures, collect panorama frames, and even do "moving timelapse" shooting, where the camera pans and/or tilts slowly over the course of a time-lapse sequence.

The Swivl app will be able to interface with your digital SLR, trip the shutter, and adjust settings.

For video shooters, the Silver Edition DSLR model will provide the subject racking via the remote, and high-quality audio support via an included wireless microphone and speakers. (The speakers would be useful for video conferencing and other telepresence applications.)

Initially communicating via BlueTooth, Satarii is also working on a WiFi-capable version for longer transmission distances.

The Swivl will be available in two versions: white, or silver.

As I write this, the company is in the final stages of a Kickstarter campaign for its second-generation product; you'll see ads in various places around the site, promoting this. What I found particularly interesting in talking to Brian was that Kickstarter for them is much less about the funding raised -- although that's certainly very welcome -- as it is about being getting detailed feedback from prospective users who are really serious about the product.

That's a large part of why I'm sharing this with our readers: Here's your chance to have some input into the development of a product you'd like to use yourself. Rather than the four-steps-removed feedback after the fact that's so common with most any consumer gadget, here you have a company that's very actively looking for useful suggestions from their prospective user community, before they finalize the product. All you need to be able to get your two cents' worth in is to make a strictly minimal commitment to the Kickstarter campaign, and you'll be able to give your feedback and comments about comments from their Kickstarter participants.

As well as SLRs, the new Swivl will also be able to work with tablets.

With some digitally controlled pan/tilt head solutions costing upwards of $900, the $239 target price of the Swivl DSLR dramatically drops the cost of entry for this capability, and introduces some very useful new twists as well. 

If the new DSLR-capable Swivl sounds like something you could use in your own work, head on over to the Kickstarter campaign for all the details, and a chance to help influence the direction of this very interesting product.

(Full disclosure: Satarii is an IR advertiser, in that we accepted a pittance from them to run a few banners promoting their Kickstarter campaign. This article wasn't part of that deal, though; I just think it's an interesting product, one I'd be inclined to purchase myself once they're available.)