Sitting there, surrounded by the glitz and glamour of PMA 2003, the device doesnít look like much. Only the stubby black antenna protruding from the transparent plastic enclosure hints at the way cool technology inside. Called Wi-Pics, the ugly duckling perched atop a small stand in the corner of the Durst-Dice America (DDA) booth at the annual US photo trade show is actually an early prototype of a portable wireless transmitting device aimed squarely at the digital SLR market.
Unlike other pint-sized wireless transmitting solutions, Wi-Pics connects directly to the FireWire or USB port of a digital SLR camera. Every time the shutter button is pressed the resulting photo flows through the camera connection cable to a 2.5 inch hard drive inside the Wi-Pics enclosure. From there itís automatically transmitted over a Wi-Fi (also known as 802.11b) wireless connection to, well, wherever you want it to go: an onsite editing station or over the Internet to a distant server. Whatever the workflow requires should be possible.
At PMA, Wi-Picsí inventor Dave Rea, an electrical engineering student at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), spent his time demonstrating the deviceís ability to send a Large Fine JPEG from a Nikon D1X to a nearby wireless server. Even with the three levels of security already built into Wi-Pics (which slows some 802.11b devices to a crawl), the 2.5MB photo completes its wireless voyage in under 4 seconds.
Wi-Pics is Reaís senior design project at RIT. Unlike the typical school project, this one is destined to be commercialized: Rea has accepted a job at DDA once he graduates in 10 weeks time. His first assignment? Bring Wi-Pics to market.
To that end, Rea, working closely with his father, RIT professor and digital photography pioneer Doug Rea, is busy hammering out final specs for Wi-Pics, which is ultimately planned to be an elegant, belt pack-size, battery-powered device capable of pulling photos from a range of pro digital SLR and advanced amateur digital cameras. Many of the key specs are still being determined, including the capacity of the internal hard drive, what battery technology to use, whether to include FireWire and USB ports in the same device and what wireless transmitting protocols to support initially (though itís likely to be a combination of 802.11x protocols, including 802.11b and perhaps the zippier 802.11g).
Being the eager young engineer that he is, Rea speaks excitedly of adding support for wireless phone transmission using the CDMA 1x technology that powers US carrier Sprintís PCS Vision data network, as well as the ability to transmit just the thumbnails from a shoot so that an editor in a far-flung location could assist in the image selection process. Heís also contemplating camera remote control over the wireless connection.
The realities of bringing the product to market will probably limit Wi-Pics from being everything that Rea wants at its inception. But if the basic functionality, size and price are balanced well this could be a heck of a product for the many photography segments that can benefit from moving pictures wirelessly from the field, including event photographers, photojournalists covering major events and the like.
In fact, this concept is already well-proven: what Wi-Pics is designed to do is already possible with a compact, wireless-capable laptop. Wi-Pics will have a clear advantage over a laptop for this purpose, however, if its size and price are closer to an iPod than to, say, a Sony Vaio PictureBook PCG-C1VPK .
Pricing and a ship date have not been set for Wi-Pics.