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Ball with brains and cameras designed to keep first responders safe

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November 2, 2012

A prototype of the reconnaissance ball

A prototype of the reconnaissance ball

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First responders such as firefighters or police officers are often faced with a difficult situation – they need to get into a building as fast as possible, yet it’s unsafe for them to just blindly run in without knowing what hazards await them. Some groups are attempting to address this problem by designing reconnaissance robots, although such devices can be expensive and/or complex. Boston-based Bounce Imaging, however, is putting the finishing touches on something a little more simple to use – a throwable smart ball.

The base version of the rubber-shelled ball incorporates six wide-angle video cameras and accompanying infrared LED lights, plus a gyroscope, accelerometer and microprocessor.

When thrown into a building, all of the cameras snap still images at a rate of two shots per second as the ball rolls across the floor. Those images are then stitched together into a 360-degree panoramic photo of the interior, and wirelessly transmitted to a laptop or smartphone outside the building.

A composite panoramic image obtained by a prototype ball
A composite panoramic image obtained by a prototype ball

The gyro and accelerometer help the microprocessor make sense of the jumble of images, allowing it to know which way is up in each shot. Bounce founder Francisco Aguilar told us that other groups have tried handling that challenge entirely via software, but have had limited success.

Depending on their intended use, different versions of the ball will be equipped with different additional sensors. The firefighting model will feature smoke, alcohol and oxygen sensors; the Homeland Security version will incorporate a Geiger counter and CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) detector; and the search and rescue model will have vibration detectors and digital microphones.

According to Aguilar, prototypes should be heading out for field testing with first response crews in January. He estimates that the balls will initially sell for US$500 each, although he hopes that the price will drop significantly as the scale of production increases.

Source: Bounce Imaging via New Scientist

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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2 Comments

Combine this with the Sphero technology and you have a throwable ball, that can then be driven and controlled once past initial obstacles.

Peter Verwey
4th November, 2012 @ 04:32 pm PST

But it still wouldn't drive up stairs...that would be a problem.

How would camera operate under smoke?

But most importantly, if you're going to throw the ball in (meaning you're within a stone's throw away, literally), then why not just..you know, tape a cctv to a stick?

Savin Nay Wangtal
5th November, 2012 @ 01:38 am PST
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