Carnegie Mellon and NASA Develop Gigapixel Robot Camera

The Global Connection Project developed a consumer robot camera accessory to take high resolution panoramas.

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February 7, 2007 – Researchers at Carnegie Mellon teamed up with NASA, under the Global Connection Project, to develop a robot camera accessory that can take high resolution panoramic pictures of up to a billion pixels. The robotic camera platform, called the "Gigapan," will be available to consumers in April for under $200.

"For minimal input, the Gigapan takes large-scale panoramas and puts them into one seamless image," said Gigapan Technology Lead at NASA/Carnegie Mellon Leila Hasan in an interview with DigitalCameraInfo.com. Coupled with a free online photo-sharing site and included stitching software, the Gigapan will allow users to have a truly "exploratory" experience, according to the developers.

The Gigapan device can be attached to any consumer digital point-and-shoot, according to Leila Hasan, Gigapan Technology Lead at NASA/Carnegie Mellon. It takes a series of photos that perfectly overlap to be stitched together with post-capture software to create a large-scale panorama image, worth over a billion pixels.

Theoretically, this device would enable a camera to take an infinite number of shots. It would take roughly 5 to 10 minutes for the Gigapan to shoot over 100 shots, with an average of 2 to 3 seconds per shot, depending on the camera.

The Gigapan is a result of year-long collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University, NASA Ames Research Center, along with additional partners such as Google and National Geographic to form the Global Connection Project. The Gigapan is based on software that has been used for planet observation in the Mars' rovers. The birth of the Gigapan came from the idea that the technology used in Mars rover observation could be applied right here on earth, according to Randy Sargent, Global Connection Project scientist. The spin-off program makes this kind of technology available to the public.

"People can take panoramas from all around the globe and let people explore and learn," said Sargent. "People will be able to explore other countries, other places," he said.

The software to be included with purchase of the Gigapan is dedicated for spatial browsing, and that allows users to interact with the wide-angle photo.

"You don’t just get a wide angle shot. You go into the picture. People can spend hours zooming in and out of the photos," said Hasan. "It’s not just one picture, it’s hundreds of pictures," she said.

Users can save these images for later examination. For instance, a Gigapan user could photograph the Grand Canyon and with the panorama browser allow friends to experience the details of the canyon too, as demonstrated through the Global Connection Project at http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~globalconn/panoramas/GrandCanyon07/.

There has been talk about the wide range of scientific and consumer applications, including education, geology, archeology, and even crime scene investigation. The state of Pennsylvania will be the first to capitalize on the technology that will be used for Civil War trail projects.

As far as future plans go, Global Connection Project hopes to expand the Gigapan to support SLR cameras, allowing higher-end camera users to benefit from the panoramic technology.

The Global Connection Project is also developing a similar time-lapse camera geared for documenting things over time. "You could zoom into a tree and watch a lemon grow," said Hasan. Currently, the time lapse device is compatible with six rechargeable AA batteries for one to two hours of operation per charge. Consumers won’t be seeing the time-lapse device this year but will have the Gigapan to look forward to.

Interested readers can sign up for more information about the Gigapan once it becomes available in the spring at http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~globalconn/commercial_gigapan.html.

*Images courtesy of the Global Connection Project. *

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