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Hardware Hacking Input Devices Hardware Build

Throwable 36-Camera Ball Takes Spherical Panoramas 140

Posted by Soulskill
from the anyone-want-to-play-some-volleyball dept.
MrSeb writes "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 panorama of the surrounding scene. 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're bad at throwing and catching."

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Throwable 36-Camera Ball Takes Spherical Panoramas

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  • ... of Pokemon Snap I was thinking of.

  • by Lord Lode (1290856) on Friday October 14, 2011 @03:03PM (#37717706)

    Really cool man!

  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Friday October 14, 2011 @03:04PM (#37717710) Homepage Journal
    The only problem with 360 panoramas like this is that viewing it requires you to use some Quicktime-VR sort of setup that always looks bad with the corner distortion and awkward controls. It's hard to map a full spherical image onto a flat display.

    It would be cool if those cameras could be upgrade/modified to take full motion video though. You get to be the ball, and look in any direction you want. Heck, with a bit of work you could almost certainly program something that could take a few snaps from this ball in the air to instantly recreate any space in a virtual environment. The combination of parallax from the movement and multiple (presumably overlapping) cameras should make it quite possible for a computer to figure out exactly what is where and what shape it is.

    You could make spontaneous virtual tours with something like that. A couple of guys go out to a location, one guy throws the ball at the other, uploads the pictures via cell or wifi to some server that then recreates the space and lets people virtually fly around it. You could even do something like that for crime scene photos or anything that needs to document the exact state of a room.
    • by RingDev (879105) on Friday October 14, 2011 @03:08PM (#37717754) Homepage Journal

      Think of the military value though. Toss a ball into a bunker, bounce it around the corner, throw it straight up to see what's on the other side of a wall, etc...

      This could be quite the tool for urban combat.

      -Rick

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yea, all you'd have to do is throw it into a bunker, then go into said bunker to retrieve the ball, come back out of the bunker, plug the ball into a computer and look at the pictures. Then you'll know exactly what was in that bunker you were just in. Revolutionary I tell ya.

        • Yea, all you'd have to do is throw it into a bunker, then go into said bunker to retrieve the ball, come back out of the bunker, plug the ball into a computer and look at the pictures. Then you'll know exactly what was in that bunker you were just in. Revolutionary I tell ya.

          Not to mention, the pictures would be at a measly 2MP resolution...

          So, it would be less knowing "exactly what was in the bunker" and more a fuzzy, pixellated version of what was in the bunker.

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            Not to mention, the pictures would be at a measly 2MP resolution...

            Sure, if they take the bright green prototype created by a bunch of graduate students and deploy that directly into combat.

            So, it would be less knowing "exactly what was in the bunker" and more a fuzzy, pixellated version of what was in the bunker.

            Or, you know, by the time it was made into something usable by combat troops it would be scaled up to having more megapixels.

            • So, it would be less knowing "exactly what was in the bunker" and more a fuzzy, pixellated version of what was in the bunker.

              Or, you know, by the time it was made into something usable by combat troops it would be scaled up to having more megapixels.

              My bad for not ending my post with a /sarc.

              Heck, why not fill the little bugger with explosives while we're at it?

              • by nedlohs (1335013)

                Because you'd like to look and see if the "bunker" aka urban bulding has enemy combatants or school children in it first?

              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by The Creator (4611)

                Heck, why not fill the little bugger with explosives while we're at it?

                Bad idea, it would make retrieving it dangerous.

                • Heck, why not fill the little bugger with explosives while we're at it?

                  Bad idea, it would make retrieving it dangerous.

                  Why would you want to retrieve an active grenade?

                • by crossmr (957846)

                  Not at all. Enemies will know it's a camera and try to destroy it. Booby trap it so that if they try to crush it, it explodes, or fill it with explosives and have a remote trigger.
                  Throw it in, grab a few pictures, then detonate if there are no friendlies in range.

                  • Enemies will know it's a camera and try to destroy it.

                    Nope. They will assume it is a grenade and act accordingly. During WW2 a US destroyer and a Japanese submarine nearly collided. The sub was so close the destroyer could not lower its guns far enough, of course the sub crew had no such problem with its deck gun. As the sub's deck gun was being manned sailors on the destroyer noticed a bucket of potatoes that had been brought up to be peeled. They grabbed the bucket and tossed potatoes at the deck gun crew. The guys on the sub immediately began chasing the po

              • by RingDev (879105)

                Heck, why not fill the little bugger with explosives while we're at it?

                Urban combat is a nasty process with exceptionally high casualty rates. The last MOUT training I did as a defender (ie: local irregular militia vs significantly larger organized military assault) we inflicted over 70% casualties.

                That was a 10+ years ago though, and maybe we've started learning from the Israelis.

                But even with flash bangs and grenades, the advantage is in the defender's hands. Especially when you have to be concerned about collateral damage.

                Given the assaulter's position, I'd much rather know

          • by omnichad (1198475)

            2*36 if it's done right...

        • Yea. This idea obviously needs to be tabled until they develop a method to somehow transmit information across the air. Some sort of... radio waves or wifi or something. Until then, this is a dumb idea, because obviously they would have to go into the bunker and get the ball back. How stupid of them.
          • +1

            The ideas just go on - what about fitting it with sensors from a kinect too, so you get a 3D model with your photo. IR cameras too, motion sensors - hook a bunch of them into a network, scatter them around, and you could have an "x-ray vision" HUD that shows you what's going on through walls and ceilings.

            Very, very clever indeed, I love this idea for the sheer simplicity, and I'll bet you can make the basic hardware for under $US500.
            • by Thing 1 (178996)
              Using wireless makes sure that even if they step on it, you'll still get pictures of the layout. And it could be designed with a cavity in the center, and a motorized weight, so it could move around -- so you don't have to go in and retrieve it. And perhaps "spikes" that it could extend, if it needs to get over a larger obstruction. Which makes me think of Snow Crash (the motorcycle).
          • by Amouth (879122)

            don't discredit it yet - we just have to teach the bad guys how to play tetherball

          • Actually, a better solution might be a bit lower tech - a long wire. It doesn't matter if it's a single-use thing. Just fire it out, unspool the wire, and stream back (and record) videos until the wire snaps. The military doesn't tend to care much about equipment being reusable after it's been in combat. There's a reason they're the only people using LiS batteries - a drone typically gets blown up long before the 30 recharge cycle limit is reached.
            • by pz (113803)

              Actually, a better solution might be a bit lower tech - a long wire. It doesn't matter if it's a single-use thing. Just fire it out, unspool the wire, and stream back (and record) videos until the wire snaps.

              That's how many missiles are guided already [wikipedia.org], so doing the same thing for a maybe-recoverable camera seems reasonable.

        • It would be awesome if there were some way to send data without wires. :-/

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Put a countdown led on it and the bad guys might feel like throwing it back out

        • Yea, all you'd have to do is throw it into a bunker, then go into said bunker to retrieve the ball, come back out of the bunker, plug the ball into a computer and look at the pictures. Then you'll know exactly what was in that bunker you were just in. Revolutionary I tell ya.

          Years ago a cable tv documentary on robotics was showing a softball sized spherical device with multiple cameras (far fewer than the student's device though) that the military was developing. The idea was to just throw it over an obstacle, into a window or door, etc in an area of interest. The imagery was wirelessly transmitted to a laptop the troops were carrying. Of course this ball was not maneuverable. There were other small robots being testing that could be thrown, tossed onto a roof, through a window

        • It's a good thing no engineer has ever been able to improve on a hacked-together prototype built in some guy's garage with improved/new components, otherwise you'd look really stupid.

      • by HTH NE1 (675604) on Friday October 14, 2011 @03:34PM (#37718020)

        Think of the military value though. Toss a ball into a bunker, bounce it around the corner, throw it straight up to see what's on the other side of a wall, etc...

        Think of the high school teenager value. Toss it into the locker room, bounce it around into the shower, instant 36 counts of manufacturing child porn.

      • by houghi (78078) on Friday October 14, 2011 @03:41PM (#37718094)

        This would be a bad idea for the US military as everybody else in the world is better at soccer.

        • by pspahn (1175617)

          Except that in much of the world, there are more females than males, and the US Women's team is pretty damn solid.

          So much for "everybody else" huh?

        • This would be a bad idea for the US military as everybody else in the world is better at soccer.

          Humor aside, I think the US military has considered this line of thought and their prototype is baseball/softball sized. As a special bonus this size can be easily mistaken for a grenade so its likely to generate some activity in the area it lands.

      • Regarding urban combat you don't want that toy. You want the M32 which can shoot 40mm grenade shells, a video camera and an infrared flare. This thing can put 6 40mm grenades on target in less than 10 seconds. Check it out http://youtu.be/aX-99a1JCc4 [youtu.be]
        • by RingDev (879105)

          And what, you're going to go building to building and fill each one with impact grenades? I'm sure that will do tons to motivate the locals to help the US.

          Not to mention that the M32 is a defensive weapon, full gear and ammo load requires 3 Marines to carry. It is an impressive weapon, but it's use in offensive urban combat and room by room clearing is near nil.

          Although, I did have a buddy take an M240-G, clip the carrying strap to the heat shield, forward hand on the barrel swap handle and rear hand on the

          • That's really not a building to building kind of weapon and I'm sure the army and marines have better tools for that. I was mostly commenting on the effectiveness of that weapons platform VS. the squishy ball with the 32 or so sensors mounted to it. The previous poster made some allusion to it's use as a tool for the military and I was just pointing out that they had a better tool for such things. RE: the size of the weapon I think we are talking about two different things. The one I saw on Futureweapons i
          • And what, you're going to go building to building and fill each one with impact grenades? I'm sure that will do tons to motivate the locals to help the US.

            ...no. I think you are missing the point. The idea is not to motivate the locals to help the US -- that was the so-called "hearts and minds" doctrine that failed so spectacularly in Vietnam. Rather, you want to motivate the locals not to help the terrorists. If the locals begin to understand that their non-combatant status isn't going to prevent them from being mowed down along side the terrorists, they will stop associating with the terrorists, and will in fact start actively cooperating with the occup

            • by RingDev (879105)

              Because obviously, if some foreign nationals invaded the US and destroyed our military, leaving only "freedom fighters" (aka "terrorist") to attempt to repell them, and in an effort to kill those terrorist, the foreign nationals killed your wife and kids, the first thing you would think is, "huh, I guess I should do exactly what they want me to do so they don't kill me too."

              That style of occupation has been working for the Israelis so well for the last 60 years too! I'm sure their constent state of war will

      • by mikael (484)

        Gorgon Stare [darkgovernment.com]?

        I-Ball [gizmag.com]?

        Firefly? [gizmag.com]

      • hell, my local county Sherrifs department has one of these

        I've played with it at a police function....

    • Oohh! You could take it one step further and just carry the ball around your house, that way it could just completely map everything out, you know, like Google Streetview.
    • by wjh31 (1372867)
      this has come on a long way since you last saw it clearly. Mostly it's done with flash these days using the mouse to drag around or arrows if you prefer. Additionlly HTML5 viewers are starting to appear and mobile/tablet friendly viewers. See e.g http://360cities.net/ [360cities.net]
    • The only problem with 360 panoramas like this is that viewing it requires you to use some Quicktime-VR sort of setup that always looks bad with the corner distortion and awkward controls. It's hard to map a full spherical image onto a flat display.

      I'm going to have to disagree [panoramas.dk] with [panoramas.dk] that [panoramas.dk]. Plenty of great panoramas on that site and are very clean and clear. Just because the source video was crap doesn't mean they all are.

      • by omnichad (1198475)

        There's some serious distortion as you move around that image, too. Reminds me of the original DOS version of Tomb Raider. The 3D just wasn't quite right. Takes nothing away from the ball, but the stitching technique needs work.

        • by iluvcapra (782887)

          There's some serious distortion as you move around that image, too.

          This is induced by projection and can't be avoided. Your screen isn't the curved inward like a sphere, so when a spherical image is projected onto it you'll always get edge distortion. Note that when they crop in on the image, the distortion goes away because the image becomes flatter for smaller crops of the sphere, thus the projection becomes less distorted, in the same way that a mercator projection of the Earth is very distorting, but a mercator projection of Seattle will have relatively high fidelity

    • by Hatta (162192)

      It's hard to map a full spherical image onto a flat display.

      My retinas seem to handle it just fine. Yes, you'll have to use some special software to render the image, but there's no reason you can't render a viewpoint into the image without distortion.

      • by iroll (717924)

        Your retinas aren't flat, and your display (the image your brain has processed) isn't projected on a flat surface. Try again!

    • by ogdenk (712300)

      The only problem with 360 panoramas like this is that viewing it requires you to use some Quicktime-VR sort of setup that always looks bad with the corner distortion and awkward controls.

      I imagine the "real" intended use of this is for oppressive police/military units to toss into an area to map the room and identify potential threats easily. Things like where people are in relation to windows, any exits, how many have we wounded so far, etc.... I really doubt this will be a successful consumer product but as a product to make killing consumers easier, safer and more efficient I think it'll sell quite well.

      Just toss it in a room and you've got the picture. Toss a grenade first and you get

      • by Jeremi (14640)

        I imagine the "real" intended use of this is for oppressive police/military units to toss into an area to map the room and identify potential threats easily.

        It's also usable by non-oppressive police/military units.

        In fact, this technology will likely cut down on accidental shootings of civilians, because the police/military will be better able to determine what sort of threat they face before exposing themselves. Fewer split-second shoot/don't-shoot decisions means fewer wrong shoot/don't-shoot decisions. (the oppressive police/military, OTOH, won't use this because they don't care who's in the room; they'll just blow up the room immediately and sort out the

    • You mainly get distortion when you view a spherical panorama with the "wrong" field of vision. If you keep the FOV low enough, around the amount of degrees of the viewer's vision your display covers, you should be fine.
    • by slim (1652)

      The only problem with 360 panoramas like this is that viewing it requires you to use some Quicktime-VR sort of setup that always looks bad with the corner distortion and awkward controls. It's hard to map a full spherical image onto a flat display.

      That's the "only problem" with *any* photography, with the edge distortion getting more pronounced the wider angle you try to project. A traditional lens makes straight lines curve - most noticeable with fisheye lenses. A pinhole keeps the lines straight, but angles get distorted.

      The solution in a scrollable view, is to zoom into the scene a bit more. Try it with Google Streetview -- zoom out and the edges look odd (although they maintain a rectilinear projection); zoom in a couple of steps and it's not a p

  • Hmmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Friday October 14, 2011 @03:05PM (#37717718)

    Hmmm so now I can take photos WITH my balls.

  • Should be stereoscopic. And there should be an immersive stereoscopic viewer.
    -Max

  • by syousef (465911) on Friday October 14, 2011 @03:21PM (#37717888) Journal

    ...but seriously, neat idea but hardly for everyday use. The seams are horrible in the resulting panorama. I presume each camera is using it's own auto exposure. What you need to overcome this is for all the cameras to communicate and decide upon a single exposure. Also might be difficult for the photographer to look natural when the shot is taken, but still catch the ball.

    Good to see people trying different things.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      Disagree; there is likely to be very different levels of illumination around the sphere (starting with sky vs ground) so I call independent exposure for each camera a feature, not a bug. If the camera registration or exposure looks bad in the output, it should be fixed in postprocessing software.
    • I don't think the problem is exposure, as my understanding is that these are just sensors all controlled by the controller, so I'm fairly sure that's not the issue (as it would be if you had just jammed 36 off-the-shelf digi-cams in there. But even if that were the problem, it would be trivial to solve. Even if you can't force them all to use the same fixed exposure and white balance settings, that can be corrected after the fact by reading the settings out of the exif and compensating in software.

      The bigge

    • by he-sk (103163)

      The seams and exposure differences can be fixed with a little automatic processing. I sometimes take panoramas with my cellphone camera, a 4-year-old Sony Ericsson W570i with a 2MP sensor. Even if the source pictures are differently exposed, as in the image in the article, stitching them together with Hygins normalizes the exposure levels and the seams are unnoticeable. I believe Hygins uses enblend internally. (Of course, the panoramas still look somewhat cheap, due to JPEG artifacts and crappy optics, bu

      • by n6mod (17734)

        Yeah, I'd love to get my hands on a set of the source images, since the stitching quality in the samples they showed was *horrible* compared to what Hugin can do. They clearly aren't trying to do seam blending or photometric correction, and I think one of the images is just plain registered wrong.

    • by ajs (35943)

      You're missing the point. This was a tech demonstration, not an end-user finished product, you can see that in the end credits (VTFV replaces RTFA, I guess). Yes, the stitching is hackish, but that doesn't matter. The proof of concept is brilliant, and I could easily see this kind of thing taking off. Even without stitching, it gives you the ability to take pictures of the surrounding area from a reasonable height, anywhere. I could see this being really useful at concerts and events where you want a pictur

    • by slim (1652)

      ...but seriously, neat idea but hardly for everyday use.

      Or, perfect for everyday, low-end use.

      Remember when digital cameras were expensive? Remember when those really cheap ones started showing up -- tiny, toy lens, 640x480 resolution -- yet they were fun.

      TFA suggests these balls will sell for $100. I'd buy one, and I wouldn't care about the odd stitching artefact.

  • HDR? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mad_minstrel (943049) on Friday October 14, 2011 @03:21PM (#37717896)
    As long as this takes HDR photos, this would be immensely useful for 3d graphics work. And no, I don't mean the useless bad-HDR-lookalike postprocessing found in phones. I mean real, honest to goodness 16-bit, not-viewable-on-most-screens HDR.
    • by tirerim (1108567)
      It's pretty hard to take high dynamic range photos with (or of) something that's moving -- it relies on taking multiple exposures at different exposure levels (either shutter speed or sensitivity) to overcome the limited dynamic range of digital sensors.
      • Looks like the camera images have a fair bit of overlap - they could probably assign at least a low/high exposure patterning that would give additional exposure data beyond whatever the sensors can provide (I presume they used consumer sensors at 10bit at best but probably already coming out processed to 8bit).

  • by mbstone (457308) on Friday October 14, 2011 @03:26PM (#37717946)

    Except for small, hard rubber spheres, they haven't made a ball that my dog can't tear to shreds.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Just wanted to say, "How cool is this?" The creativity of humankind never ceases to amaze me. Things like this make me grateful and glad to be alive during this period of time. :-)
  • They could fire these at protesters!
  • It may get lost in the woods, fall from a cliff, eaten by an elephant or stolen by some poor kids when visiting a third world country.. It obviously needs a GPS too.
    • by pkinetics (549289)
      It needs MMS so that it can send the photos of it getting eaten by the elephant so that we can see the inside of it.
  • I can see the military and police going ape over this. Toss a ball, get a quick survey of hostile territory BEFORE going in. Even with distortion, it will be very useful without needing VR glasses.

      It's also cheap(comparatively speaking) and light, so several can be carried.

    For civilians, just think what it will do for paintball! Just make sure the lenses are easy to clean. :)

    • by blair1q (305137)

      They have camera-carrying UAVs for that already. And satellites. This would be better for if you're in a space you can't see from the air.

      Throw one of these into a cave or building, see if there are any bad guys around the corner, etc.

      And as for what I've seen of high-zoot paintball matches, it consists primarily of hiding behind something and lobbing thousands of paintballs into the air trying to get lucky when the enemy peeks out from the thing it's hiding behind lobbing thousands of paintballs at you.

  • A new way to throw up a ball... for the literal majors...
  • Much better surveillance and pursuit ball [youtube.com] from Japan. It would be easy enough to add more cameras to that thing.

  • Use 36 video cameras and an attitude sensor, and combine the images and stabilize them to a particular attitude in realtime.

    Now you can toss this thing at random and always see a 4-pi steradial view of the area no matter how it's tumbling.

  • Absolutely cool. I like it and I would buy it.

    I'd expect different types of balls. For instance one that's nearly unbreakable. Or a bigger one which you can roll down a slope.

    Imagine tossing the ball from one cabrio to another. Or taking a birds eye picture of a sport your buddy is playing. Or a ball fixed on a helmet.
  • If you could modify it to take continuous pictures (stills would be fine), I'd *love* to send one of these up in a rocket! You could either use it for a nosecone, or eject it with the parachute. Let it come down either with the rocket or under its own chute. Another neat thing would be to fly one under a kite.
  • And Wehm's micro-recorders. I thought I'd heard of these from some contemporary cyberpunk, just pinning down which story.
  • I miss Stargate Universe.

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