Back from Embedded World 2019 - Funny Stories and Live-Streaming Woes
When the idea of live-streaming parts of Embedded World came to me, I got so excited that I knew I had to make it happen. I perceived the opportunity as a win-win-win-win.
- win #1 - Engineers who could not make it to Embedded World would be able to sample the huge event,
- win #2 - The organisation behind EW would benefit from the extra exposure
- win #3 - Lecturers and vendors who would be live-streamed would reach a (much) larger audience
- win #4 - I would get to play with new toys and offer something of value to the *Related sites community.
So I started researching the subject and the more I dug, the more I realized that live-streaming in HD from Embedded World would be challenging.
First there was the obvious issue of bandwidth. A decent HD stream needs between 4 and 5 mbps of steady upload speed. I knew from my two previous presences at EW that the WiFi on location is really unstable and most of the time very slow.
I found a solution to the bandwidth problem in the form of a live-streaming device that can connect to the internet through 4 independent channels; one ethernet, one WiFi and two cellullar (LTE). The solution also requires a subscription to an online service in the cloud that would "bond" the data coming from the active channels into one stream and send it to a video platform of choice.
All I would need to do is buy two USB internet sticks and data sim cards that would work in Germany. Easier said than done. What I didn't know is how complicated buying sim cards in Germany can be when you don't have a permanent German address. I got denied in four mobile stores before I finally found one that would sell me data sim cards and be fine with using my Airbnb address and my passport to make the registration process work. Without those sim cards, the live-streaming device would have had to use the Wi-Fi network exclusively which basically means that the quality of the streams would have been horrible in most cases and just unwatchable in many cases.
So I bought 4 x 2GB sim cards at 15€ each. 8GB of data would give me roughly a total of 4 hours of HD live streaming, provided that the the WiFi would not contribute any bandwidth to the stream.
I made it to the first morning of EW with six live-streaming sessions scheduled for the day. A very ambitious target but I felt confident I could pull this off and that I had everything figured out.
Of all the things I thought could go wrong and cause me trouble, I never imagined that my tripod could be one of them. About 30 minutes before going live I took my tripod from its bag only to realize that it was completely broken; it didn't survive the trip between Canada and Germany (note to self: a cheap tripod is not the right place to save money).
By chance, I had a second tripod as a backup, which would have been great if I had not left at home the "quick plate" needed to attach the camera to the tripod. After one week, I am still emotionally recovering (I exaggerate a bit for maximum impact) from this moment when I realized that I was screwed and left with only unpleasant options.
Session #1: Adding Intelligent Vision to Your Next Embedded Product - by Radhika Jagtap from Arm
I decided to try and do the first live-streaming session anyway, using the tripod as a monopod. Doesn't sound like a big deal until you understand that controlling the camera is only one of the things that need to do done during a live-streaming session. Youtube and the Liveu Solo console need to be monitored to make sure that everything is running smoothly.
If you watch the video (you should, great info and presentation by Radhika), you will notice that although very watchable, you can tell that the camera operator is either drunk or distracted by other things while filming (like monitoring Youtube and the Solo).
Once this first live-streaming session was done, I knew I could not work all day in these conditions. So I made the difficult decision to cancel the two next sessions to give me enough time to take the train downtown and find a new 'quick plate' or tripod. I ended up buying a new tripod.
Session #2: Textbook example of handwriting recognition using hardware-accelerated deep neural network - by Bogdan Deac from Digilent
For session #2, I was not out of the woods yet with two more issues that would make me gain experience the hard way. First, although I use a 'state of the art' avx-me2 wireless microphone, it became clear a few seconds before going live that I could not use the output from this microphone's receiver as the sound would cut every few seconds due to interference. So I had to switch to backup audio from the on-camera microphone, giving a far inferior sound quality than a functioning wireless Lavalier would have provided, very frustrating.
Second issue was that the internet connection on my laptop went down at the very moment that I was about to click on the 'Go Live' button. I told you earlier that the WiFi at the venue was unstable, I should have known better. I quickly connected my laptop to my phone's hotspot and clicked on 'Go Live' as soon as I could. If you watch the video, you'll notice that it starts when the presentation is already underway.
At the end of Bogdan's presentation, it is about 2:30pm. I am exhausted already by the numerous setbacks and can't help but wonder if this live-streaming adventure will end up being a terrible mistake.
Session #3: The Future of FreeRTOS by Richard Barry, founder of FreeRTOS, now part of AWS
Between session #2 and session #3, I had only 30 minutes to get my act together. Session #3 was particularly important because the community had voted 'The Future of FreeRTOS' as the most requested session by far. I asked the technician behind me at the sound console if I could possibly get a feed for my camera. Now I know that this is something I should always do first. In two minutes I had an XLR cable connected between one output of the console and one input on my camera. Audio issue solved!
(I wish I had asked the technician name and contact info to buy him a beer or something. If by some miracle you know the guy at 3:50 in the video, putting a mic on Richard, please let me know.)
To make sure that I wouldn't miss the first minute of the presentation, I went Live very early to root out any new problem that might show up to make my day even more difficult. So make sure to start the video at about 4:30 to skip the preparations.
This presentation is the one when things started to work very well, which was good news for my nervous system.
Session #4: Presentation by Alan Hawse From Cypress
For those of you who've been to Embedded World in the last few years, chances are you've seen one of Alan's very animated and energetic presentations.
From my point of view and in terms of Live-Streaming, everything went well.
From Alan's perspective though, not so much. One obvious danger with live is that there is no second take and Murphy's law made sure that Alan's demo would behave at the wrong moment. Again, the WiFi at the venue might be the source of the problem here. Still, Alan's presentation is very much entertaining and shows what can be done with some of Cypress' products.
Session #4 was the last one for day 1. At that point, I felt encouraged by the successful last two sessions and was looking forward to day 2. I was invited for dinner by our friends at Percepio and had a great time.
Before going to bed, I checked my Linkedin feed and saw this post:
A very nice way to finish the day.
Session #5: How to Migrate Intelligence from the Cloud to Embedded Devices at the Edge - Chris Shore from Arm
Day 2 started with a Lecture by Chris Shore from Arm about Intelligence at the Edge, a very trendy topic these days. And you can tell that Chris knows his stuff and is a very experienced speaker, which made for a great presentation worth watching.
When I realized that the clip meant to attach the Lavalier microphone to the speaker's shirt was missing, I didn't have enough time to run to the media room to try to find it; the presentation was about to start. I decided to put the microphone on the desk in front of the speaker, hoping that Chris would not move around too much. This ended up working fine and I later found the clip in my camera case where it had fallen.
Session #6: How can AWS's integrated Industrial IoT suite help your company gain the competitive 'IoT Edge' - Craig Williams from AWS
Another popular entry from the survey I did before the show was this presentation by Craig Williams, Principal Solutions Architect IoT for AWS. Again, I was fortunate to have access to a feed from the audio console for this presentation, so the audio is great. Craig presented a comprehensive overview of the constellation of products from AWS for IoT development.
Session #7: Keynote - Embedded Intelligence for the Next Wave of Smart Systems - Opportunities and Challenges on the Edge. By Jean-Marc Chery, CEO of ST
For the keynote, I couldn't get an audio feed from a console so I had to rely on my wireless microphone. The first few seconds got me really scared as there was clearly a serious interference issue. Things got better when Mr. Chery got on stage and other than a few glitches, the audio was fine. The biggest issue was the white balance. Because I had plenty to deal with already, I operated the camera on fully automatic mode which implied that the camera would figure out the white balance by itself. So you will notice that as I went from filming the screen to filming Mr. Chery, the skin tones were completely off (way too yellow) for tens of seconds. This is one of the things I want to improve for future broadcasts; go custom with the white balance to avoid having people look yellow.
Once you get used to the strong accent, I found the keynote very interesting and full of interesting insights from someone who has lots of visibility into the Embedded marketplace.
Session #8: Designing Intelligent Systems Using Resource Constrained Edge Devices - by Jacob Beningo
My friend Jacob Beningo did an amazing job putting this presentation together. Very hands on, very interesting for embedded developers. I find Jacob to be one of the best speakers on the Embedded circuit.
Session #9: Mark Fu from Cypress presents the EZ-PD Barrel Connector Replacement
Another presentation worth watching, really well done by Mark Fu and his teammate Palani Subbiah. The vision of a world with all of our electronics being charged by a common connections (USB-C) is very appealing.
Session #10: TeamViewer Iot Starter Kit Demos - by Nils Larcher
On the last day of Embedded World, we got to visit the TeamViewer booth where we met a very nice group of individuals. They introduced to us their industrial IoT Starter Kit and showed us a couple of very cool demos.
Session #11: Sneak Peek at a new BeagleBone Board, by Jason Kridner
Session #11 was our last session and a great way to finish. Jason Kridner, founder of BeagleBoard, warned us that once he starts talking, he is so passionate about BeagleBoard that he has a hard time keeping it short. It's all good because everything he had to say was interesting and informative. Towards the end of the interview, he introduced us to the new BeagleBone AI.
Room for Improvement
After many setbacks on the first day, at about 2pm, I really thought that the live-streaming experiment would be a failure and probably something that I wouldn't want to try again. Then things started to improve slowly but surely and by the last day, I had become quite comfortable. The feedback I have received so far has been positive enough to encourage me to do more live-streaming in the future.
But there is so much room for improvement. From getting a better wireless microphone with better range, to learning how to operate my new camera in full manual mode to avoid white balance and low exposure issues.
And the potential is huge. Although nothing can replace attending an event in person, having the possibility to watch part of the event through live-streaming has value I believe. For instance, I would love to travel to local meetups and possibly live-stream some of the presentations that are given.
What else would you possibly like me to live-stream to you?
Alan Hawse = Legend!
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