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Throwable ball camera captures panoramic images

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October 16, 2011

The ball camera snapping away (Photo courtesy Jonas Pfeil)

The ball camera snapping away (Photo courtesy Jonas Pfeil)

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Taking pictures is about to get a lot more fun if computer engineer Jonas Pfeil and his colleagues have anything to say about it. A recent graduate from the Technical University of Berlin, Pfeil and his team designed and built a working prototype "ball" camera- a foam-studded sphere (about 8 inches in diameter) peppered with 36 tiny 2-megapixel cell phone cameras. Throw it in the air and it captures an image at the top of the ball's trajectory. Talk about redefining photography- one day, snapping pics may give way to "tossing" them.

Panoramic images, with their large width to height ratio, are appealing because they better approximate the way we humans view the world. But capturing them typically requires a tripod, several camera positions and lots of stitching together. Pfeil's invention eliminates all that since the component images are captured simultaneously. That's especially handy since it also freezes moving objects that might otherwise blur or shift during the image-gathering process.

To view the roughly 72-megapixel images from the ballcam, the data is downloaded via USB port into a spherical panoramic viewer which will ship with the camera. The resulting images look similar to those on Google's Street View and can be similarly panned and zoomed to examine all the captured details.

The multi-faceted housing that holds the ball-cam together was fabricated with a 3D printer. Aside from the 36 STMicroelectronics quarter-inch CMOS camera modules, the well-padded interior also houses an accelerometer (to gauge toss acceleration and maximum height) and two Atmel microcontrollers to sync up and control all the cameras. Most of the components are fairly inexpensive, so while there's no price point yet, it's likely to be competitive with mid-range digital point-and-shoots.

"We used the camera to capture full spherical panoramas at scenic spots, in a crowded city square and in the middle of a group of people taking turns in throwing the camera," says Pfeil.

The team plans to demo their patent-pending new camera this December at SIGGRAPH Asia 2011, and it's sure to cause a stir. Hopefully it'll generate a marketing deal, too, because, as Pfeil notes, "above all we found that it is a very enjoyable, playful way to take pictures."

The 36 CMOS sensor ball camera (Photo courtesy Jonas Pfeil)

All images courtesy Jonas Pfeil

The video below shows both the ball-cam in action and some of its images:



About the Author
Randolph Jonsson A native San Franciscan, Randolph attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland before finding his way to the film business. Eventually, he landed a job at George Lucas' Industrial Light + Magic, where he worked on many top-grossing films in both the camera and computer graphics departments. A proud member of MENSA, he's passionate about technology, optimal health, photography, marine biology, writing, world travel and the occasional, well-crafted gin and tonic!   All articles by Randolph Jonsson
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6 Comments

WOW! So many fun and purposeful uses for this.

kalqlate
17th October, 2011 @ 10:17 am PDT

Sell to the military - they could use them for target practice. Why would anyone pay money for this one? Maybe an HD quality set-up, but anything less would be quite useless.

Piri
17th October, 2011 @ 06:14 pm PDT

How about use a video camera which is gyro stabilised so that it points the direction of travel.

Could be fun watching a goal being scored/or saved from the balls POV.

Stephen Colbourne
18th October, 2011 @ 12:08 am PDT

This is the best thing for photography since sliced bread... Well, it won't take the place of professional quality photography but I can imagine the value of having one of these when you're on holiday!

Just need it to be manufactured in a less eye-catching colour and no-one will know what you're up to!

agulesin
18th October, 2011 @ 04:26 am PDT

LOL with my luck I'd miss the catch and watch it bounce to bottom of cliff!

Might take some cool pics on the way down.

I think it would have its uses. large groups of people, don't have to have everyone stand in one place. I could have used it at the 4th of July in Washington DC, get a view of everyone walking the mall. Cool idea! hope the develop it more.

telocity
27th October, 2011 @ 04:57 pm PDT

I imagine (in the not so distant future), crowds of papparazzi all playing volleyball outside the houses of the rich and famous.

MisterH
13th December, 2012 @ 02:18 am PST
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