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MSNBC Photography News: Throwable Camera Ball Shoots 360-Degree Panoramas

Throwable Camera Ball Shoots 360-Degree Panoramas
from Photography News, October 15, 2011

Researchers at the Technical University of Berlin have come up with an ingenious Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera. Developer Jonas Pfeil and his colleagues created the ball to make it easier to capture a full spherical panorama.

The concept device is a throwable multi-sensor camera about the size of a cantaloupe that snaps a single, instant 360-degree panorama. You simply toss the ball up and then retrieve the pics via USB and see them in a special viewer.

Arranged around the ball are 36 2-megapixel fixed-focus cellphone cameras. When the ball is thrown, they fire simultaneously at the apex of the ball’s flight, capturing the scene in every direction (including the photographer).

What’s even more amazing about this device is it is built in such a way that once it’s thrown in the air it automatically takes the picture at the highest point.

The entire camera is packed into a 3D-printed ball-shaped enclosure that is padded with foam, so it’ll probably survive a landing if you can’t catch it.

Pfeil will be showing off the sphere at Siggraph Asia 2011 in December. The patent is pending.

The video above shows the ball camera in action.

from the camera ball site:

To be presented as the Emerging Technologies demonstration ‘Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera’ at the SIGGRAPH Asia 2011: Jonas Pfeil, Kristian Hildebrand, Carsten Gremzow, Bernd Bickel, Marc Alexa. Computer Graphics Group, TU Berlin.
Diploma thesis ‘Throwable Camera Array for Capturing Spherical Panoramas’: Jonas Pfeil. 2010. Advisors: Marc Alexa, Carsten Gremzow.
High resolution images (PRESS):

Ball Camera (JPEG, TIF), Panorama (JPEG, TIF). These two high resolution images and the following text are available under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) license. You can use them freely but you have to include a reference to “Jonas Pfeil” and this webpage ( The video is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0. Please contact me if you need a higher quality version.

Panoramic photography creates fascinating images. Very wide angle images are closer to the human field of view than conventional pictures. If seen through a panoramic viewer they let us experience a location as if we were there. Panoramic image stitching can create panoramas from pictures taken one after another. Unfortunately, acquiring the images takes a lot of time and moving objects may cause ghosting. It is also difficult to obtain a full spherical panorama, because the downward picture cannot be captured while the camera is mounted on the tripod.

In this work, we present a throwable panoramic camera that solves these problems. The camera is thrown into the air and captures an image at the highest point of flight – when it is hardly moving. The camera takes full spherical panoramas, requires no preparation and images are taken instantaneously. It can capture scenes with many moving objects without producing ghosting artifacts and creates unique images.

Our camera uses 36 fixed-focus 2 megapixel mobile phone camera modules. The camera modules are mounted in a robust, 3D-printed, ball-shaped enclosure that is padded with foam and handles just like a ball. Our camera contains an accelerometer which we use to measure launch acceleration. Integration lets us predict rise time to the highest point, where we trigger the exposure. After catching the ball camera, pictures are downloaded in seconds using USB and automatically shown in our spherical panoramic viewer. This lets users interactively explore a full representation of the captured environment.

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. Above all we found that it is a very enjoyable, playful way to take pictures.
// Follow

// Hardware
ATtiny24, AVR UC3B, STM VS6724, […]
// Software
C, C++, QT, OpenCV
// People
Jonas Pfeil
Kristian Hildebrand
Carsten Gremzow
Bernd Bickel
Marc Alexa
// Advisors
Marc Alexa
Carsten Gremzow
// Year
© Jonas Pfeil, 2011


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