Panoramic Ball Camera; Toss To Snap A Picture

This odd-looking ball can automatically take a panoramic image whenever you throw it up into the air. Seriously, that’s then entire set of operating instructions for the device. Inside, a 3D printed frame hosts an array of 36 cellphone cameras, each capable of taking a two megapixel image. Also included is an accelerometer. When it senses the change in momentum associated with the apex of its vertical trajectory it snaps an image with all of the cameras at the same time. The result is a spherical image with no obstructions-like a tripod or other support mechanism. The images are automatically stitched together and displayed on a computer which allows the user to pan and zoom.

The whole story is told in the video after the break. The example images shown are quite good, although there are a few artifacts where the segments meet. Most notably, color variances between the images captured by different CCD modules. We’d image that this can be fixed automatically in software if a talented programmer were willing to put in the time. The thing about spherical photos is that methods using post processing to unwrap an image always have some distortion to them. With that in mind, we think the ball camera is as good a solution as we’ve seen.


[Thanks Gregory and Hans]

72 thoughts on “Panoramic Ball Camera; Toss To Snap A Picture

  1. It should be named religion ball. Photographers look like praying on all photos if they want to catch camera before it falls to ground. Otherwise – it’s amazing concept, so innovative I can’t even start thinking how anyone stumbled upon this concept.

  2. Really really great concept. I like it and i want one!

    As @yetihehe says, gotta be sure you catch it.
    From the movie it looks like there is some difference in exposure and white balance amongst the pictures, maybe that should be fixed.

  3. Awesome concept.
    To be clear, accelerometer cannot detect the apex of the flight path directly, well maybe it could if the accelerometer was very accurate to take wind resistance in account. Instead, the accelerometer is used to measure acceleration, and the apex can be integrated from the acceleration data.

  4. How does it sense the apogee? On-board accelerometers should show zero g as soon as the ball leaves the thrower’s hands and remain at zero until it is caught. Are the accelerometers sensitive enough to detect the effect of air resistance?

  5. Something in free fall has constant acceleration, so you can’t detect the apex of the ball’s flight with an accelerometer. What this device actually does is integrate the acceleration when the ball is being thrown (before it is released) to get its initial velocity, which is then used to calculate the time to the apex.

    1. Of course you can – the first instant that the accelerometer reads zero is the apex. It doesn’t matter that it’ll continue to read close to zero for the rest of the trajectory.

      1. No, Pelrun, Matt is right. The acceleration is zero from the time it leaves the hand until it hits the ground. (Barring negligible air resistance.)

        -Physics professor. There are several of us who follow Hack-a-Day. :-)

      2. that is not how acceleration works – you are thinking of velocity. The z-axis acceleration would read zero from after release until it lands. It would not change during flight, Matt is correct.

        Jim – MS Physics, NIU.

      3. No Matt is correct, acceleration is constant during free fall, and that includes the trajectory when the ball is moving upwards, the apex, and the downwards part. There must be some other system used to determine the apex.

      4. Ignoring air resistance, the ball is in free-fall (constant acceleration) the *entire time*. The person you are responding to probably read the page this post links to:

        “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.”

      5. No, you can’t. The same instant that the ball leaves your hands, it is in free fall, and It accelerometers should read exactly 0 until it is catched. For this size and speed, I think you can ignore friction.

      6. The Acceleration time graph would have a positive spike at the beginning from the user’s throw but once it leaves the users hand it accelerates due to gravity at a constant -9.81ms^2 nothing happens to the acceleration at the peak of the flight. As matt said the accelerometer is used to gather data about the throw which is then extrapolated to work out the height.

      7. Integrate acceleration, and you get speed+constant. If you know the speed at some prior point in time, for example if you can determine when the device is at rest, then you can detect the apex.

        It’s actually a bit more difficult since there is not only vertical speed but also horizontal and spin to take into account, but that’s the idea.

  6. Yeah, no obstructions except that stupid looking photographer. :)

    So here comes the idea: add a parachute and launch device (no rockets needed) with remote control (could be sold separatelly as accessory for the camera).

    Very cool anyway.

  7. If there was enough room inside would some kind of manually spun gyroscope stop it from spinning and causing blur? I say manual because then you don’t have to worry about motors.

    1. A gyroscope would certainly help, two would probably be better.

      Making it manual is a brilliant idea.

      I am uncertain about how effective this would be. I DO however remember a project that used an accelerometer to capture the required values for debluring an image. Add more sensors and you could do the same here.

    2. To those suggesting military applications. There are several different kinds of cameras like this designed for military use, there are throwable ones and ones launched using standard grenade launchers.

      The grenade launcher ones that I am aware of can be launched and transmit video for about 30 seconds. These are launched along with star parachute rounds at night.

  8. this thing would have useful military applications. you could stay under cover and get a birds eye view of the combat situation. like looking for snipers while in a foxhole.

      1. hah I guessed correctly :)
        “// Hardware
        ATtiny24, AVR UC3B, STM VS6724, […]”

        VS6724 has buildin jpeg dsp, all you have to do is tell it “snap me a picture”, then you just download that picture at the speed you decide, so even low power AVR can do it.

  9. Easily one of the coolest things I’ve seen all year. Useful in so many different ways for so many different people.

    These would make collecting documentation a dream, since you could send a luddite out with a ball and tell him to toss it into the air while walking around an area of concern.

  10. This is great…they need to make a video version and make it super-strong, then use it as the ball in Soccer and Baseball…it might actually make those sports worth watching, on TV anyway. Heck, it could even make Tennis interesting…for a while.

  11. How is the camera triggering done? When the ball is thrown it is essentially in free fall until catched. Is air drag sufficient to determine apogee? I doubt the two uc’s have enough computing power to do it with the cameras.

  12. Should have read it more carefully..”When it senses the change in momentum associated with the apex of its vertical trajectory it snaps an image”
    Anyway, how does this work?

    1. Calculus, I would guess. It knows only it’s acceleration, but it knows it’s acceleration from time 0 through the flight. Knowing how fast it is going at time 0, and integrating it’s acceleration function (which should be just gravity) it can determine velocity. Knowing it’s velocity, it can tell when it’s at an apex.

      Less theoretical, just figure out how fast the ball is thrown and at what angle to the ground. Take that vector, and figure out just the upward movement. When time*gravity=initial_upward_vector, you’ve hit apex. Drag will play a small part, you could add a drag calculation into the first part, but why? I few milliseconds error isn’t going to be more motion blur than the spin of the ball will be.

  13. Does anyone actually know how accelerometers work?
    The original concept developed for torpedoes is a free WEIGHT with a spring fore and aft, allowing the weight to move back when first accelerating and for’d when acceleration ceases (making the connection which set off the payload).

  14. Awesome awesome awesome.

    The software Hugin might be useful for stitching, blending and exposure balancing. Might be nice if the white balance for all of the cameras can be synchronized.

    I’d love to have one of these. It’d be really useful for planetarium production.

  15. This could be very useful for military applications. Imagine being pinned in a firefight and throwing one of these up instantly knowing the situation in 360 degrees from about 30 feet up.

  16. make it smaller, make it capable of transmitting live video to a receiver, add a parachute and come up with a launcher to get it up higher, and the military would want it more.

  17. The distortion has nothing to do with stitching software, but everything with projecting a 3D world onto a 2D photograph.

    The reason is doesn’t show with a normal camera is that it projects only a small portion of that world ‘around you’ onto the plane.

    Photographing a bigger part, thorugh multiple cameras, moving lenses, wide angle lenses, or fish eye lenses, always leads to distortion.

  18. Of military issues. Why not hook a Wi-Fi or Sat link and drop it from an unmanned aircraft as an observation platform. You could confirm your kills with it while exploding it. Imagine if Bin Laden saw that fly into his bunker window, picked it up thinking it was a UFO and then 7 guys burst while he’s busy watching a “Western” on TV. Fun stuff. Or put mirrors on it and drop it inside the NYC New Years ball. Imagine the possible.

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