Autore: ExtremeTech

ServeBall

You’ve been pushing for ten minutes, but you just can’t get closer to the stage. You’ve got some Chilean miners trapped and just a tiny hole through which to reach them. You’ve got a tennis game. Have you noticed the recurring problem? That’s right! How in the world are you going to take the perfect panoramic photograph? With the newly patented ServeBall, inventor Steve Hollinger has you covered.

Despite the fact that neither the words “serve” nor “ball” supply this information, ServeBall is a panoramic camera designed to be thrown (or rolled, lowered, etc) so it can capture previously impossible images. The idea has been around for a couple of years, but what sets this incarnation apart is both its size — the first prototype is roughly the size of a tennis ball — and its video capabilities.

The version seen in the image above, called Squito, uses three cameras, an inertial sensor, an a processor for coordination. The sensor and processor let Squito make some pretty sophisticated calculations on the fly (as it were), stitching together images taken while the ball is spinning to create contiguous panorama shots. Even more interesting, the ball will apparently be capable of taking high-speed video, which makes its capabilities seem instantly more useful.

Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera

An earlier version of the same idea, this one using more than 30 cameras for full spherical shots.

Lob one of these babies back and forth over a volleyball game for some truly fantastic (and disorienting) video. Lower it down through a tight space or bounce it around a sharp corner to catch a glimpse of otherwise un-photographable areas. Or, as mentioned, you could just huck it straight up in the air to get some pictures or video from above a large crowd of people — just be sure you have it tethered to you somehow. It will reportedly allow stabilization of the video feed, which is piped directly to a phone, tablet, or desktop — though the last of these seems unlikely. With only three cameras, and no control over the spin put on it by the thrower, the device’s claims to “track” subjects in video seem a bit far-fetched.

Details on Squito are scarce right now, but judging from the promotional shot it could certainly stand some padding. Shrinking this idea down to the size of a tennis ball seems to invite use as, well, a tennis ball, but we have no way of knowing how robust this unit will end up being. Landing on grass is one thing — but concrete? The term “throwable” requires a certain amount of ruggedness, but users will still likely have to be vigilant in their aiming.

Intriguingly, Hollinger plans to patent a number of “alternate aerodynamic shapes,” an open-ended idea that truly boggles the mind. Are we just a few years away from panoramic Frisbee cameras? Or perhaps we’ll be taking that group photo with a bottom-weighted photographic lawn-dart?

All kidding aside, 360-degree panoramic photography (let alone video) is currently a huge pain. A product that streamlines the process, even incorporating a fun airborne aspect, really could revolutionize the party photo — and there’s really no reason that you have to throw the thing. The bigger problem will be on the software side; how easy will it be to pull a more conventional photo from these panoramic shots?

I’d presume that most people are more interested in the portion of a photo containing their family and friends, as opposed to the portion showing a huge swathe of empty sky. With a sufficiently user-friendly solution for editing, the ServeBall could be a real hit.

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