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Friday, October 14, 2011

Throwable 36-camera ball takes perfect panorama photos

Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera
Jonas Pfeil, a student from the Technical University of Berlin has created a rugged, grapefruit-sized ball that has 36 fixed-focus, 2-megapixel digital camera sensors built in. The user simply throws the ball into the air and photos are simultaneously taken with all 36 cameras to create a full, spherical (360-degree?) panorama of the surrounding scene.
The basic premise for the project is that taking panoramic images using a conventional still camera is a bore: you either need special hardware and software, like the GigaPan system, or you have to painstakingly shoot the photos and arrange them yourself when you get back home. The Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera (it doesn’t seem to have a nickname) automatically takes 36 photos when it’s at the highest point of its trajectory, and it comes with a panoramic image viewer that displays the images as a pannable, zoomable sphere that you can move around; a lot like Google Street View.

The ball itself is made with a 3D printer, and the innards (which includes 36 STM VS6724 CMOS camera sensors, an accelerometer, and two microcontrollers to control the cameras) are adequately padded, so presumably it doesn’t matter if you suck at throwing and catching. You can see from the video below that the ball is too big (but not too heavy) for single-handed use — but considering this is the work of a master’s degree student, it’s safe to assume that the same hardware could be miniaturized into something like a tennis ball. It seems like every camera has independent exposure control, too, which in this case isn’t necessarily a good thing; notice how some fragments of the panoramas are different colors.

Throwable ball panorama photo
Still, the Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera – which will be demonstrated at SIGGRAPH Asia 2011 in December — is an utterly fantastic idea and you can imagine how it could revolutionize everything from holiday snaps, to wedding photos, to playful photos of children at play. There’s also the added bonus that if you’re alone, the photo will always have your grinning, supplicating mug at the bottom — and if you’ve ever traveled alone, you’ll know how hard it can be to take a good self-portrait in a busy location. Imagine what it would be like if you combined the panoramic ball with the Israeli “grenade launcher” hostile-environment camera system, too…

There’s no word on when the ball might come to market, but the first words on the project’s website are “PATENT PENDING,” so presumably Jonas at least has the intention of licensing the design. Excitingly, the ball’s components are very cheap; it could have a retail price of under $100.

Read more at Jonas Pfeil’s website