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UC Berkeley Press Release

Sproul Plaza webcam adds new dimension to free speech

– An engineering professor and his students are offering Web users a new state-of-the-art robotic webcam that is stirring interest at the intersection of technology, politics, media and history.

The new webcam is being unveiled at Sproul Plaza, the heart of activity on the University of California, Berkeley campus as the University prepares to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement.

"Sproul Plaza is inherently a stage, and by putting the webcam here it opens that stage up to the world," said Ken Goldberg, the UC Berkeley professor of industrial engineering and computer science who is heading the project called "Demonstrate."

web page for Demonstrate project
The web interface for the Demonstrate project allows users to share control of the robotic camera overlooking Sproul Plaza.

The project's title is a play both on the activism that frequently occurs on Sproul Plaza as well as on the researchers' desire to make public the latest advances in camera technology.

Visitors to the Web site are able to remotely control a robotic camera to view high resolution live images from Sather Gate to Telegraph Avenue. Users of the camera may take photos, post them on the "Demonstrate" Web site, and add comments.

The project employs algorithms Goldberg and his research team have developed so that the camera can accommodate up to 20 users at the same time. For example, if there is one person using the camera, it will follow that person's input. But when there are several users, the camera will reconcile everyone's commands and arrive at a collectively determined view.

The "Demonstrate" project is being featured on Artport, the online portal to Internet art at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. "Philosophically, this project explores the concept of a public university in terms of being open, rigorous and aware of public issues," said Goldberg. It is also generating a dialogue on privacy issues prompted by new camera capabilities and by the proliferation of cell phone cameras and video security cameras.

To foster this public discussion, Goldberg has invited award-winning author David Brin to speak on campus on Friday, Oct. 1, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. Brin wrote the book, "The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?"

Brin's lecture, "A World Filled with Cameras: Security at the Cost of Freedom? Or Can We Have Both?" will be held in the Lipman Room at Barrows Hall. It is free and open to the public.

Webcam users thus far have captured a variety of scenes, from snapshots of students on the plaza to imaginative nighttime displays of Telegraph Avenue.

Goldberg and his students will be on Sproul Plaza each day from 12-2 p.m., Oct. 4-8, to introduce and explain the new webcam. While they are on Sproul, they will demonstrate the ultra high-resolution views possible with the webcam by increasing the camera's zoom capability.

Users of the webcam will also be able to check out a number of scheduled events planned in early October to honor the 40th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, including a noontime celebration on Friday, Oct. 8.

To use the Sproul webcam, go to http://demonstrate.berkeley.edu.

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