M&E Journal: Innovation at 200 Miles per Hour

By Jason Brahms, CEO, Video Gorillas

Video Gorillas founder Alex Zhukov has been an avid skydiver for years. He’s made more than 700 jumps and competed around the world. This passion for leaping out of airplanes is more than just a way of life for Alex. It’s also what ultimately resulted in the creation of M&E’s most state-of-the-art commercial video player, as well as a live-streaming platform that is radically enhancing drone technology.

150 MPH. “How many people have seen the Burj Khalifa from above?” – It’s no secret that GoPro cameras are extremely popular with action sports enthusiasts, and skydivers are no exception. But there were inherent challenges to sharing jump footage with the skydiving community. How do you share footage quickly, and how do you get people to see the cool stuff? What everyone wants to see is the five minutes it took to do a 10,000-foot jump, not the hours of boring footage before and after it.

Skydiving video produces very large media files full of lots of worthless footage. You could try to upload the files to a file sharing service like Dropbox, but uploading took forever, especially if you lived somewhere like Kiev, Alex’s hometown, where 3G is the only option. It simply wasn’t scalable.

This is how Video Gorilla’s Live4 GoPro was born. We built a live-streaming platform and integrated GoPro into the Live4 mobile app. We optimized it for 3G to take care of low bandwidth and spotty connectivity. The result was a solution that provided users with a seamless viewing experience with few interruptions. Live4 GoPro was created to solve a problem, rather than be a business. That came later.

Live4 GoPro saw a great organic lift in users, and over 100,000 people streamed on the platform. That was achieved through word-of-mouth within action sports communities, rather than through marketing, because we still didn’t understand we had a “product” per se. We created Live4 GoPro more than three years before products like Periscope and Facebook Live launched. And once they did they almost immediately commoditized the majority of live streaming features.

But we were listening to our users. People wanted more specialized features to do unique things related to action sports. So, we continued to innovate. The Facebook Lives of the world were going after the broad, generic idea of live streaming; what we focused on was solving harder problems.

175 MPH. Heart racing, the cityscape of Dubai coming into stark relief. “What if someone could not only see this, but also know what’s happening to and around my body right now?”

We all carry mobile devices that include a gyroscope, accelerometer, tools that create all this rich sensor and telemetry data. So, we patented a method of correlating those sensor inputs with live video streaming —in other words, you could now see this data synched to what was actually happening on screen.

This is also how we made it easy to find the exciting moments in footage, by creating a heat map on the navigation bar that shows spikes in acceleration and g-force, telling viewers where all the action is. We also created a high-end, high-fidelity video player with advanced functions, and built it in a way to enable a uniquely dynamic viewing experience.

Over time we realized we’d actually created a commercial platform that could push the boundaries of what’s possible across multiple industries.

We partnered with KSI Data Sciences to develop “Mission Keeper,” which is built on the LIVE4 Streaming Platform and focuses on broadcasting live video feeds from drones. Overlaying telemetry, weather and directional data on maps provides users with critical information to help them do their jobs. We’re creating augmented reality overlays on live video to help increase situational awareness for first responders, fire, search and rescue, and law enforcement personnel—an example of how technology can be used to literally save someone’s life.

We’re also focused on solving very simple, but high risk use cases. Take the redundant task of cell tower inspections. Currently someone must climb a very high pole, and most of the time there is nothing wrong. This is not only a very time consuming task, it’s also extremely hazardous. Our solution allows an inspector to pilot a drone from the ground and broadcast that footage live so others can participate in the inspection process. Eventually the drone will be mounted to the cell tower and be controlled remotely. Alarm triggers will be built in via a neural network, sending alerts when the drone spots something that doesn’t look right.

So how does this impact M&E? Often innovation starts outside of M&E. Technology is adopted in other places, or driven by consumers, and influences what happens with M&E.

200 MPH. “I should probably open my chute.”

Machine learning tools like the ones Video Gorillas developed can analyze video in real time, and do visual analysis for object tracking based on features within the frame. They can find correlations to other data rather than just tagging metadata. It has the potential to eliminate human beings from the video analytics workflow for logging and fully automate.

Biometric data, heart rate, location, brain waves—all of this data can be captured in real time, synced to footage, and used to create new dimensions to viewing experiences. The heartbeat of a race car driver—people will be drawn to that. Machine learning can be used to analyze plays and game film, in which you know where the goals are, but what you need to know is where Player 42 is and all footage of him or her making a particular play.

You want to see penalties from this player from every game they’ve played since 1997. Machine learning can do this without logging data that a human created. And once biometric data is involved it has the potential to make broadcasts incredibly interesting. It opens a huge realm of possibility for sports, obviously, but also other forms of entertainment.

But how did we really get here? From simply wanting to stream and share skydiving footage, to having a crack team of ninja geniuses this far ahead of the innovation curve?

120 MPH. The fall becomes more gentle and serene, the parachute lifting Alex and controlling his descent.

Creating a culture of innovation starts with hiring. Finding the right team, and understanding who is good for the team and who isn’t. Knowledge and skills are, ultimately, the least important. Will this person culturally fit into the organization, the family, and perpetuate a philosophy of innovation? In Video Gorillas’ case we look for unique, dynamic, strongly skilled and strong-willed people. People with an opinion. We want debate. We want creative conflict. But we also need a team that will enjoy going out for drinks together.

You need to give innovators a platform to discuss new ideas and room to build things on their own. Many of the products and services we’ve adopted, developed and monetized are direct results of hobby projects that we supported during work hours.

You also need a mix of projects that are stimulating. Technology challenges are fantastic catalysts for problem solving, but what’s even more powerful are projects with a purpose. Feeling like what you’re working on is going to help people, up to and including potentially saving lives.

The other tactic we employ is the one that’s hardest for some managers to hear. To have a thriving, innovative environment you have to embrace individuals for who they are. Adapt your style of management and communication to what works for them, rather than trying to force them into your box. Listen to your team.

It’s impossible to create lightning in a bottle on demand. But the philosophy above is how we’ve increased the frequency of lightning strikes in our world. Hopefully, by embracing these ideas you can too.


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