Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ball camera takes spherical panoramas

John Wallace
Senior Editor
Laser Focus World

The commoditization of high-tech builds on itself. For example, CMOS imagers are used in digital cameras, become cheaper to manufacture, and are used in cell phones and toys. In the process they become even lower in cost, smaller, sturdier, and easier to use.

In one example that will likely continue this trend, Jonas Pfeil, who recently graduated from the Technical University of Berlin, took 36 of these imagers and created a portable, rugged camera that takes a spherical panoramic shot of its surroundings. To use it, you just toss the ball-shaped imager into the air: its internal accelerometer (another commoditized device) and some integration software predict the ball’s highest point and snap simultaneous pictures from all its CMOS imagers. The info is then downloaded via USB and viewed in custom-written spherical-panoramic viewer software.

(Image: Jonas Pfeil,

The project was Pfeil's diploma thesis. He and his colleagues at TU Berlin will be presenting the camera as the Emerging Technologies demonstration 'Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera' at SIGGRAPH Asia 2011 (Hong Kong; Dec. 12 to 15).

The 2-megapixel cell-phone-camera modules are held in a structure fabricated by a 3D printer, which also holds a layer of foam padding. When thrown, the device can capture scenes with many moving objects without ghosting. The inventors are currently looking for an investor or a partner to build the camera.

I can see many potential uses for this ball camera. A tourist gets a panorama of the Grand Canyon. A tweener gets a shot of all her partying BFFs at once, even the ones sneaking vodka. An undersea scientist gets accurate counts of fish and other sea life. A CIA agent gets that essential bit of info from outside a second-story window. And (with video rather than still images), an IMAX theaterful of viewers gets motion sickness.

To see the full-sized panorama, go to: (Image: Jonas Pfeil,

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