Want a 360-degree Panoramic Photo? Toss the Ball Camera

If only every thesis was this cool: computer engineering student Jonas Pfeil made a patent-pending throwable panoramic ball camera as his final project at the Technical University of Berlin.

All you have to do is throw the foam-padded ball in the air and its 36 fixed-focus 2 megapixel mobile phone camera modules will snap photos when the ball reaches its highest point (as measured by the ball's accelerometer). Once the ball is back in your hands, you can download the photos via USB and immediately see them as one image on your computer.

As Jonas explains on the Ball Camera website, "It can capture scenes with many moving objects without producing ghosting artifacts and creates unique images." The promotional video [ embedded above ] shows panoramic images of a city square and the great outdoors [ see screen shots below ].

The ball's hardware involves two types of microcontrollers (8-bit and 32-bit), and the software was written in C, C++, QT and OpenCV.

Jonas's team includes his advisers Marc Alexa and Carsten Gremzow as well as Bernd Bickel and Kristian Hildebrand, both part of TU Berlin's teaching staff.

Unfortunately, you can't buy the camera yet, and you can't join an email list to find out when it will be available -- you have to follow @ballcamera for updates.

The FAQ also points out that the team has heard of Kickstarter. We're betting that Jonas is looking for a killer partner rather than the market validation (and money) Kickstarter would provide.

Jonas and the team will demo the camera at SIGGRAPH Asia in Hong Kong in mid-December.

UPDATE [ 10/16/2011 at 7:25pm PDT ]: Jonas tells LAUNCH he is still considering options for raising money, and using Kickstarter is one of them.

In terms of making the ball, Jonas says the hardest part was getting the components "small enough to fit in a ball that can still be handled well. The final product will very likely be even smaller, but for a prototype this was difficult."

Naturally, we wondered what happens if the ball, um, doesn't get caught. Jonas notes that the foam padding is for protection as well as to make the product feel like a real ball. "Still, we currently only have one prototype which is why we did not dare to test its resilience yet. But we expect it will survive a crash from normal throwing height," he says.

His inspiration for the ball: using stitching software to make panoramas from photos he took while hiking on the island of Tonga. "I realized how tedious this was and I thought about a better and faster way of creating panoramas. Then the idea of a ball thrown into the air came into my mind and I started making plans to realize it."

If you want a panoramic camera right now, take a look at the Dot from Kogeto -- it clicks onto your iPhone and costs just $79.

Jonas calls the Dot a "cool project" but points out that the ball camera has higher-resolution images can captures more of the environment because the camera can "look" up and down.

As for Jonas's employment, he'll work with his adviser Marc Alexa's group at TU Berlin until their SIGGRAPH presentation. "I do not have a concrete plan for the time after this yet," he says.


The ball camera video shows this woman throwing the ball near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

The ball camera catches the woman who threw the ball (lower left corner), the Brandenburg Gate and a nearby street.

Another shot of the Brandenburg Gate from the ball camera.

The ball camera can take photos of what's below it -- as shown here -- something panoramic cameras on tripods can't do.


Ball Camera
Website: http://jonaspfeil.de/ballcamera
Twitter: @ballcamera

Jonas Pfeil
Email: camera at jonaspfeil dot de