To give you a preview Tom Worthington, President of the Australian Computer Society (host for IFIP96) and Senator Kate Lundy (one of the speakers), will transmit photos live from a hot air balloon over Canberra.
This is believed to be the world's first transmission of digital photographs from a hot air balloon to the Internet and the first by an elected member of a national parliament over their constituency.
Those three photos were all we had time to snap and send in the air. I did manage to send out an e-mail announcement to the IFIP Presidents from the air. The other photos were taken in the air on the same flight, but uploaded after we were back on the ground.
Digital images sent by mobile phone has some serious uses and implications. The equipment used costs a few thousand dollars (Camera: $AU1500, computer: $AU4500, phone: $AU1,000). This, for example, could be fitted into a radio controlled model aircraft to make a low cost surveillance platform for use over a city by emergency services.
Note 9 September 1996: See the Industry Issues Paper I have added to the Defence Home Page for Joint Project 129, Project Warrendi, Airborne Surveillance for Land Operations.Consumer digital cameras are now down to as little as $AU500. However the problem is the limited digital storage in the camera for images (about eight to sixteen images) and the difficulty of getting the photos out of the camera and into a computer. An alternative would be a camera attachment for a mobile phone. The camera would only need to store one or two pictures and then transmit them to a storage site on the Internet. You could then look at your photos when you got home.
This technology also has some worrying implications. For around $AU1,000 it is possible to build a pocket size video and audio surveillance device, from the imaging unit of a digital camera and the transmitter of a mobile telephone. This would have legitimate applications to protect premises. The unit could be attached to a movement sensor, switch on and transmit a photo of anything in a room. However if misused this has worrying implications for personal privacy.
The major limitations are the speed of the transmission, which is 9600 bps and the cost of phone calls on the mobile phone system. Also you have to worry about battery power in the laptop and phone, as you tend to use both for longer.
In operating the system from a balloon there are additional problems with the limited space and lack of a table top. I had the mobile phone clipped to my belt as usual (the carrying case for my phone has a hole in the bottom to allow the data adapter to be attached). I had a shoulder bag to keep the computer and accessories in (in fact the free give-away conference bag from the ACT Oracle User's Group 1996 Conference).
To operate the laptop computer I had to hold it in one hand and type or operate the mouse with the other hand. This is a difficult operation in a balloon basket. Besides the Senator and myself, in our side of the basket was a photographer from the Canberra Times newspaper (with a conventional 35 mm camera), trying to take photos of the set- up. In the excitement of looking at the view and two people taking photos, my laptop came precariously close to the edge of the basket. This is one of the applications that a touch screen or pen operated computer on a neck strap might be useful (a PADD would be perfect).
We had a major problem with the flash RAM PC card from the digital camera: it went in the PC to transfer the photos okay, but would not come out. It was next to impossible to remove the flash RAM card from the PC. My PC has two PC Card (previously PCMCIA) slots. The top one has an eject button, the bottom one doesn't. The GSM interface was in the top slot as usual, so I had to put the RAM card in the bottom one. I have never used this slot before and found I had to remove the GSM card (disconnecting the data link) to prise out the other card. I would like to get the designer of this PC up in a balloon some time and see if they could do better.
Before sending each photo I had to convert it from the digital camera's proprietary format to JPEG, using the software supplied with the camera. Then I opened this file in another graphics package to create a small GIF version for in-line in the web page. This takes about a minute per photo and takes longer than actually sending the photos. It would help to have a programmable package which did the necessary conversions automatically. Also a system which uploaded photos as they were available would be useful.
PS: This is what the burner on the balloon sounds like.
With thanks to: