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Alaska support team.
Image by Tom Sjogren courtesy HumanEdgeTech, SOURCE
Because Inmarsat satellites are positioned over the Equator, in Alaska the antenna had to be aimed almost straight at the horizon.
Image by Tom Sjogren courtesy www.humanedgetech.com, SOURCE
Basecamp was set up with Macs, PC, Androids, Iphones and Pads. All biometrics, tracking and other info was uploaded to the cloud through satellite and downloaded again over satellite.
Image by Tom Sjogren courtesy HumanEdgeTech, SOURCE
Sensors talked to Android over Bluetooth that used the wifi hotspot to get internet over satellite.
Image by Tom Sjogren courtesy HumanEdgeTech, SOURCE
"We currently focus on smartphones and Internet of Things at HumanEdgeTech. Open source software and open source hardware allow gear combinations never before possible. "
Image by Tom Sjogren courtesy HumanEdgeTech, SOURCE
Worst memory: "Cracking my Sony laptop screen while driving an ATV to camp. Trauma."
Image by Tom Sjogren courtesy HumanEdgeTech, SOURCE

The future of adventure film and television: Roundtable kick-off

Posted: Nov 22, 2012 01:08 am EST
(Tina Sjogren) Social TV, GoogleTV, personal 3D videocams and rent-a-theatre concepts: Internet has disrupted print media and some say TV is next.

In an attempt to predict what the future will look like, ExplorersWeb asked documentary producers, cameramen, folks building special interest platforms and other adventure film makers for their take.

The interviews will be published as a Roundtable through the remains of 2012.

Tom Sjogren, at ExWeb sponsor HumanEdgeTech, recently finished a cool (and occasionally hilarious) adventure film gig involving a number of tech aspects: satellite transmissions coupled with self-quantification tools in a wilderness survival setting. Here goes.

ExplorersWeb: You recently went to Alaska as consultant for a survival/tech reality pilot for the Animal Planet. What was that like?

Tom: Awesome to be back in Alaska - easy to forget what an awesome place it is. Also great to work with an eclectic bunch of people. Film team mostly from Colorado supported by a gang of wounded soldiers from Wasilla. A bit like Obama meets Romney in the wild :) Many new friends.

ExplorersWeb: We hear they all took off on choppers filming each other, leaving you alone to fend for yourself in the comms tent. How did that go?

Tom: Soldiers gave me a gun and instructions to shoot Grizzly not in the head (bullet might ricochet) but aim for the heart. In Sweden we kind of sucked at guns but as a brand new US citizen (September) I'm doing my best to adapt.

ExplorersWeb: What was the mission, in terms of tech?

Tom: Tyler from the production team called HumanEdgeTech asking for extreme technology.

The mission became to create a wifi hotspot over satellite in a basecamp on the tundra (this is 6 hours drive north from Anchorage) and get feedback from a small mobile team up on the glacier over satellite.

We used satellite trackers, high speed satellite modems, biometrics, weather readings and transmitted back and forth over a combination of Bluetooth, Wifi and Satellite. We had a mixed platform environment using Windows, Mac, Androids, iPhones and Pads. Plenty of tech firsts.

ExplorersWeb: Issues you worried about beforehand that were solved? Aspects of the tech that really surprised you (in a good way)?

Tom: We did full field tests in San Francisco before leaving so no real worries. The main obstacle was to get an Inmarsat connection with only a 9 degree incline which is pretty much aiming directly to the horizon - but the signal was great and really stable.

The production included some 20 people and the communication had to work or it would become a very expensive fail. We had several backups of everything including 4 BGAN units.

ExplorersWeb: There were sensors and self-quantification tools involved. What was coolest and was it tricky to get to work?

Tom: Coolest was how the Android phone worked in this setup. We used Galaxy S2 and they were awesome (we do everything Android first and iPhone second these days). We used biometrics that streamed over Bluetooth to the Android that in turn sent through wifi over satellite.

ExplorersWeb: Worst memory?

Tom: Cracking my Sony laptop screen while driving an ATV to camp. Very traumatic.

ExplorersWeb: Best memory?

Tom: When members of the production team realized they could do facetime or skype live video from their smarthpones over satellite. It's truly exciting to see how people get mesmerized over live pictures, heart beats or tracks in real time over satellite. I think this is a beautiful merge of people and technology.

ExplorersWeb: Adventure reality shows - do you see a future for them?

Tom: Of course. We want all kinds of entertainment and reality shows meet a need to experience adventure in a relaxed setting without personal commitment.

Moreover, I think that technology such as sensors, trackers and drones (flying cameras) will kick up the excitement and offer access to new environments. Personally I would like to see really great explorers hooked up with awesome technology and great production resources. The most exciting expeditions today are still poorly communicated at best.

ExplorersWeb: What's the practical future for personal sensors and trackers?

Tom: It will change everything and we are in the beginning of it right now. The first most obvious step will be increased use of internet-of-things devices such as accelerometer wristbands, pulse monitors and environment sensors. New designs will make them easy to wear and easy to sync over Bluetooth to smartphones.

The second step will be what we can learn from the big data registered by these sensors and saved in new types of data bases.

ExplorersWeb: Old media routinely created heroes, now regular people increasingly make their own fame and media consumers have gone from "them" to "me". ExplorersWeb is a product of that. Is there a similar change in film, and if so will documentaries have to be more participatory?

Tom: Definitely have to be more participatory. I find traditional TV and printed media in general slow and boring and so do must most kids apparently since they prefer to play video games. So the documentary format has to be radically reinvented.

ExplorersWeb: There's lots of new and increasingly cheaper film-making technology. Meanwhile, skilled pro docu-makers for the outdoor lifestyle say it's harder to finance projects. "Nobody buys documentaries anymore." Why is that and what can be done?

Tom: Not sure if anybody ever bought documentaries. "Breaking Dawn Part 2" opened to $340 million last weekend. All box-office sales of all documentaries last year were less than $50 million, so the format is not a huge money maker.

The revolution is online. YouTube was incorporated in 2005 and today more than 100,000 hours of video are uploaded each day. Changing behavior of the crowd affects all media today. This is both a challenge and a possibility for documentary makers. Fundings will probably be low in the near future while new monetization models are invented.

ExplorersWeb: Interestingly, adventure is no 2 top grossing genre (after comedy) in movies. Only it's not OUR adventure, but Batman, Lord Of The Rings etc. Reality usually beats fantasy, so how can real adventure films beat Men in Black and Harry Potter?

Tom: Yes it's surprising kids don't appreciate endless shots of yaks and Everest sunsets over Batman...

I find it extremely exciting to be on an expedition and equally boring to watch a documentary about one. I don't think I'm alone. We need more innovative, creative and risk taking producers. In early 20th century all painters and writers spent a year in Paris. I propose a year in Silicon Valley for adventure film makers today.

ExplorersWeb: A Norwegian polar skier recently said kids not only don't watch adventure video; they don't go outside at all but stay indoors to play computer games. Can we create adventure cinema that is as exiting as computer games?

Tom: They play video games for thrill because they don't get enough adventure in their daily life. Kids need easy access to the beach, the woods, the mountains. If we give them that, genetic curiosity will pull them out and small adventures will become bigger ones.

Unfortunately due to over-protection, kids roaming (with their dogs) in streams and forests is almost unimaginable these days. I don't think exciting adventure cinema will help. This problem needs to be solved on a different level.

ExplorersWeb: Could we use gaming tech and bring in sensor information? How could film makers in general create products that viewers can interact with?

Tom: Second screen technology (interact with TV shows via smartphone or PAD) is already here. Although still mostly about games, tweets and earning points; I see a huge potential there.

Product placement and personalized ads with interactive features will be new ways to finance productions. We will also have the technology to build a more intense and valued user experience. Exactly how is where much of the creative process will focus in the future.

ExplorersWeb: The merger of web and traditional TV (Google TV etc) seems like a good idea - to check statistics, maps, gear and stuff while watching an adventure documentary - but currently most layer attempts have flopped. Perhaps we should just relax when we sit down to watch TV?

Tom: I don't have a TV and prefer watching stuff while I multitask on my computer - so personally I think the passive viewer is becoming a thing of the past.

ExplorersWeb: New kinds of tools are emerging: drones and other robotics with built in cams for extreme shots - what cool gear do you know of out there?

Tom: We currently focus on smartphones and Internet of Things at HumanEdgeTech. Open source software and open source hardware allow gear combinations never before possible. I think we will see more customized tech solutions in the future. The satellite phone companies are unfortunately ages behind in these aspects which will somewhat slow the process.

ExplorersWeb: What about 3D? Would you want it for adventure documentaries?

Tom: Sure, but to me documentaries is something I watch on my computer/pad so excited to see how that experience can develop.

When it comes to adventure I'm a big fan of live, streaming video. In 2014 Inmarsat will start rolling out 50MB/5MB download/upload terminals and that infrastructure will enable live HD streams. We will have to wait much longer for live 3D.

ExplorersWeb: The military and NASA are increasingly using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software and hardware. Should we adapt this thinking to adventure tech?

Tom: Toughbooks and other mil spec products are heavy, over priced, power hungry and seldom the latest tech. My iPhone took dips in the ocean, aerials on stone floors, had sips of soda - and still it works.

Another aspect is that familiar tools are much easier to handle than new technology when climbing a mountain or fighting a war. Why teach people in tough environments an entirely new gadget when they are already familiar with their smartphones.

ExplorersWeb: What kind of new tech would you ideally love to see happen in the near future (5 years)?

Tom: Already working on it :)

Sponsored by Ericsson Mobile Systems Tom Sjogren with wife Tina built a wifi network to the summit of Mount Everest in 1999. In early 2000 they skied unsupported back to back to both poles, pioneering wearable computers and head-mounted displays. They did the first live dispatches from the polar ice ever transmitted by a skiing expedition. The tech resulted in Contact software, bundled with hardware used by thousands of expeditions.

HumanEdgeTech is a unique, no-nonsense virtual expedition tech warehouse for satellite communications and edge technology. Created by explorers for explorers, the store is user-friendly with no-hassle pricing, expedition-tested gear, expedition-ready hardware, fast delivery and payments. HumanEdgeTech.com accepts most international credit cards, and delivers worldwide within 72 hours. Contact Tom and the Human Edge Tech Team at +1 212 966 1928 or by email team@humanedgetech.com
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