When Kaltura, the company whose open-source video platform is used by everyone from the World Bank to Columbia Business School to HBO, asked me to be a judge for last week's Video Experience Hackathon, I was quick to say yes. With $50,000 in prize money, it was a sure bet to draw people with some cool ideas. So last Wednesday, on the final day of the annual Kaltura Connect conference in New York City, I sat down with IBM cloud services CTO Mac Devine, Sherpa Digital Media's Ben Chodor, and Zohar Babin of Kaltura to take a look.
The hackathon had taken place over a 43-hour period the previous weekend. By the time we got there, the 12 teams that submitted working applications had been narrowed down to four finalists. We were asked to judge them on four criteria: innovation and creativity (how original is the idea? does it offer a real solution in the market?), polish (does it feel hacked together, or is it well thought out?), design and user experience, and use of software tools provided by the sponsors—Kaltura, cloud hosting company Rackspace, and automated voice transcription outfit VoiceBase.
The point of something like this—and the reason Kaltura was willing to put up $50,000 in prize money, with Rackspace offering another $25,000 in hosting credits—is not just to see what people can do under pressure but what ideas they have. A lot, apparently. In the space of half an hour, we were presented with four Web and/or mobile apps that leveraged everything from facial recognition to head-tracking to augmented reality to 360-degree video—sometimes all in the same program. It was not an easy choice.
Send in the drones: Kaltura in the Clouds, at the Kaltura Video Experience Hackathon.
First up was Kaltura in the Clouds, a drone application that streams live video to the Web. The guy who built it—Christopher Temme, a project director at the New York financial publisher SourceMedia—is a drone enthusiast who sees them as tools of popular empowerment. He gave a terrific demo: Picture a small, home-made drone buzzing above the audience, feeding live video of the audience to a giant screen onstage for the audience to see. A perfectly recursive selfie! Lots of potential use cases too: journalism, warfare, espionage, law enforcement, monitoring of law enforcement, border patrol, store security. . . . Okay, maybe not store security. But give it a few years.
Henry Chen, a data scientist at the New York ad tech shop Dstillery, followed with Deja Vu, a Web and mobile app that tags Facebook videos and makes them searchable. The app automatically recognizes spoken words, people's faces, even objects in the background. Type in a name or a word and the app finds the video you're looking for.
Patrick Morris-Suzuki, another New Yorker, showed us Streammersion, a virtual reality play that streams 360-degree video to an Oculus Rift headset or to a Kaltura video player running on Google Chrome. When streaming to the online player, the video can be controlled by turning your head, just as it is on the Oculus Rift; it also responds to voice commands.
The final presentation came from Sam Harrell of Big Air Software, an Ann Arbor company that publishes interactive 3-D ski trail maps. Sam's flight from Detroit was 12 hours late because of bad weather in New York; by the time he got to Kaltura's offices, it was 1:00 AM and the hackathon had been on for hours. Nonetheless, he worked nonstop until the competition ended Sunday afternoon.
Sam Harrell turns a photo of the Dave Brubeck Quartet into a performance of "Take Five."
The result was Kaltura Local, a Web and mobile app that gives video "contextual awareness": You can tag videos by location and amplify them with augmented reality. Point your smartphone at an object—anything that's been pre-programmed to respond—and suddenly you see more. Sam demoed this with a 1963 photograph of the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the auditorium where the conference and the judging took place—Jazz at Lincoln Center. With his iPad aimed at the photo, the picture came alive, with the San Francisco jazz greats playing their classic "Take Five" on his screen.
Sam won. It took us a few minutes to get there, but the decision was unanimous.
But winning isn't everything. Earlier this week, Patrick sent in a hack that uses some of the concepts that went into Streammersion, but in a new way. This time he's developed a system that can tell whether or not you're actually watching the video that's playing on your screen; if you look away, the video pauses. Advertisers, among others, are sure to be interested. "It's a very exciting idea," Zohar told me. "Some interesting announcements are going to be coming out in the next few months."