Dylan Rose was tired of seeing live music through the smartphone screens of fellow concertgoers. The 19-year-old University of Washington student didn’t just set out to solve that problem with another gadget — he put himself on a path to alter human behavior.
“I want to create technology that changes the world,” Rose said. “I’ve been a geek of electronics, tech, anything since I was very young.”
Still pretty young by world-changing standards, Rose is a confident kid from Chicago who landed at the UW in part because of the surrounding tech ecosystem in Seattle. His creation is GilmpseCam — a wearable headband camera designed to capture live music.
Rose is one of nine UW students, faculty and staff awarded a grant from Amazon Catalyst, a program that is a collaboration between the tech giant and UW CoMotion that encourages innovation in the university community. “The goal of the program is to inspire people to think big, invent solutions to real-world problems, and make a positive impact on the world,” according to CoMotion.
For anyone who has been to a concert in the past several years, anything that gets people to lower their phones and be more present during the experience would certainly be viewed as making “a positive impact on the world.”
In the age of social media and the constant need to share, it’s refreshing to meet a teen who is pushing back against the constantly connected mentality — especially with his own innovative spirit.
“I’m born to solve problems, and that’s the problem I see,” Rose said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’m sitting with my friends, and they’re like, ‘What is there to do? I’m so bored, I’m so bored,’ and they’re just scrolling. I think it hurts social interaction. Take it to the next level — mental health. I think our generation is being hit like a truck by mental health problems, so growing up in and around that I see the effect that that daily usage of a smartphone and other social media technologies have on us. The biggest bet that I’m hedging here is not that people are going to stop liking social media, it’s that I can give them a better way to do it.”
When he was in high school, Rose loved the idea of Google Glass. Last year he actually launched a Kickstarter for a product he created called Kai, which involved a voice-enabled interface mounted on a pair of glasses behind the ear. He didn’t raise the necessary funds, but in the process he gained a strict appreciation for voice — especially Amazon’s Alexa — and why he considers it a more intuitive, seamless, and ubiquitous form than relying on a screen.
But Google Glass and Snap Spectacles got it wrong, in Rose’s view, because the expectation was that users wouldn’t want to take them off, and in the process would be documenting nearly everything.
“Wearables are not a consumer play longterm,” he said. “Wearables are really better to be integrated at an event, or for a specific activity. But making something and saying, ‘Here, log your life’ … Google tried it, SnapChat tried it, no one wants that. I’m not going down that route.”
As a freshman at UW, Rose said he likes to think he’s pre-engineering. But he’s very serious about the startup life and he’s doing more of an individualized track that allows him time to do research credits. He’s currently heading up a commercialization team in an engineering lab, with six undergrads working with him to build his device. This summer he said he’ll also be working in a special projects lab at Amazon.
Rose showed off a jumble of components that are going into prototypes that he’s been tinkering with while working on GlimpseCam. He had a Raspberry Pi and a Pi 3, some batteries, headbands and disassembled Spectacles in his bag of tricks, among other things. The idea is that a thin hairband will be outfitted with a small camera and perhaps even rely on ambient backscatter communication — another UW breakthrough which is explained here. Images would be transmitted via WiFi.
Rose’s belief is that the headbands are something that could be handed out at concerts or festivals. The producer of the event or even the artist could be involved in picking up the cost, branding, advertising, etc.
“The vision is, you can show up at a concert. We can strap you with a headband, maybe a wristband with some vending information. Everything you need for that contained experience, no distractions, no social media, no B.S.,” Rose said. “Leave the phone at home.”
Getting people to ditch their phones at events that are so ripe for social-media bragging will likely be easier said than done. And certainly phones are used for much more than just capturing concert video. But if a teenager is already thinking in a new direction, there’s hope. The Glimpse Wearables motto after all is “Look up at the world, not down at a screen.”
Rose said his last concert was a Pusha T hip-hop show at UW. He said didn’t shoot any video on his phone, but he saw plenty of people who were doing just that.
Would he have recorded parts of the show, hands free, if there was a headband camera for just such a thing?