‘Personal cameraman’ Swivl gets $500k from Grishin Robotics to go big in education

It’s easy to see how a motion-tracking, iPhone-compatible camera dock could appeal to any gadget hound or videography geek. But since the first Swivl launched in early 2012, its biggest fans haven’t been in the consumer or even corporate markets: they’ve been in education.

To build on that base, the company on Wednesday said it had raised $500,000 from Grishin Robotics, an investment company focused on supporting personal robotics. Previously, Swivl raised about $175,000 from Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns and less than $1 million in angel funding.

Since the device’s debut, Swivl co-founder and CEO Brian Lamb said the company has shipped about 10,000 units, with uses ranging from pet monitoring to corporate videoconferencing.  But he added that 75 to 80 percent of its customers are coming from education.

“There’s a very powerful ongoing discussion about using video for [several] use cases [in education] that this plugged right into,” said Lamb. “It’s a tool to open the doors of the classroom and get people participating online.”

swivl1For teachers aiming to “flip” their classrooms with videos students can watch online or get feedback on their teaching styles from peers, the Swivl provides an easy way to self-record lectures and classes. The $199 device, which the company likens to a robotic “personal cameraman,” includes a sensor that tracks the subject’s movements, panning and turning the camera as necessary. (For more details on how it works, you can check out my colleague Kevin Tofel’s review of the first-generation Swivl.)

Already, it’s being used in 1,000 K-12 schools and 250 universities, Lamb said. With the new funding, the company plans to accelerate the production and distribution of the company’s second version of the Swivl, which includes more classroom-friendly features like iPad compatibility and a feature for attaching additional microphones to capture audio from students.

Even though it may have been unintended, Swivl’s rise in education makes sense given the surging interest in using technology to enhance and extend the classroom. In addition to the “flipped classroom” trend and growing calls for better teacher feedback systems, teachers are increasingly turning to video technology to support distance education programs and capture lectures for students to review or watch later on.

For example, companies like Torsh and Edthena provide tools for teacher observation and evaluation, while McGraw-Hill’s Tegrity and Echo360 are among those offering schools lecture-capture services.  But given its focus on developing hardware and eventually offering connected cloud services (although Lamb wouldn’t elaborate too much on that), Swivl is more of a complementary rather than competitive startup.