A Drone Photosphere is Worth 4000 Times Pi Words

One of the problems with a cheap drone is getting good video, especially in real time. Cheap hobby quadcopters often have a camera built-in or mounted in a fixed position. That’s great for fun shots, but it makes it hard to get just the right shot, especially as the drone tilts up and down, taking the camera with it. Pricey drones often have a gimbal mount to keep the camera stable, but you are still only looking in one direction.

Some cheap drones now have a VR (virtual reality) mode to feed signal to a headset or a Google Cardboard-like VR setup. That’s hard to fly, though, because you can’t really look around without moving the drone to match. You can mount multiple cameras, but now you’ve added weight and power drain to your drone.

MAGnet Systems wants to change all that with a lightweight spherical camera made to fit on a flying vehicle. The camera is under 2.5 inches square, weighs 62 grams, and draws less than 3 watts at 12 volts. It picks up a sphere that is 360 degrees around the drone’s front and back and 240 degrees centered directly under the drone. That allows a view of 30 degrees above the horizon as well as directly under the drone. There is apparently a different lens that can provide 280 degrees if you need that, although apparently that will add size and weight and be more suitable for use on the ground.

The software (see video below) runs on Windows or Android (they’ve promised an iOS version) and there’s no additional image processing hardware needed. The camera can also drive common VR headsets.

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360 degree photography uses very easy post-processing

[Pixel_Outlaw] has been working on a method to capture 360 images with his camera. He’s using a shiny Christmas ball ornament to reflect the entire room into the lens of the camera. In the unwrapped image you can make out the three legs of his tripod. In that snapshot he laid the ornament on the floor and pointed the camera straight down from above.

What catches our attention is the post processing he used to unwrap the image. He loaded up The Gimp, an open source image manipulation program, and used just three steps to unwrap the image. First he cropped the picture so that it was square and the spherical ornament was perfectly centered. Then he ran the polar coordinates filter. Finally he scaled the image, setting the width to be Pi times the height. Works pretty darned well for something that doesn’t take much fiddling.

The ornament wasn’t perfectly smooth (or maybe it was a bit dirty) but you can get a much better starting image if you use a bulb with a silver reflector like we saw in this older hack.

Spherical and stereoscopic photography

[Ryubin’s] experiments with spherical video continue. This time around he’s using two cameras, both with fisheye lenses, to capture 360 degree by 360 degree video. The two cameras mount back to back and each record a 360 degree vertical view in a 180 degree horizontal range. By stitching the two recordings together and synchronizing them by comparing moving objects a seamless spherical video is produced.

He’s got one more trick up his sleeve with this setup. The tripod mount has a pivot point that allows the two cameras to shoot side-by-side instead of back-to-back. This produces a hemispherical video that is stereoscopic. That’s a pretty cheap way to make this type of 3D imaging compared to some of the CES offerings.

There are a few example videos up on his webpage. If you missed it earlier this month, he’s the guy that build a spherical video setup using a light bulb.