07 November 2012

Ball-shaped, bouncing camera scouts out hazardous situations

US start up Bounce Imaging is developing a ball-shaped, bouncing camera that can be tossed into dangerous places such as a burning building to let first responders know what they're getting themselves into.

The prototype imaging system relies on six wide angle cameras each surrounded by an infrared LED flash, which wirelessly relay 360° panoramic images of the scene back to a tablet or smartphone. An external casing protects the components from being crushed on impact and allows the device to bounce.

The camera, which is expected to weigh in at less than a pound, can snap pictures every second or half second, depending on the device's settings; six pictures give a full 360° view of the scene. An accelerometer and gyroscope help orient images, which can be sent wirelessly to an Android smartphone or tablet where software stitches the images together.

"The unit also has slots for other types of sensors - for example, smoke and temperature sensors in a firefighting model, methane or coal dust detectors in mine inspection units, and so on - so the ball can send back additional data along with the images," said company founder Francisco Aguilar.

Aguilar and co-developer Dave Young believe their device will be easier to operate and cheaper than existing devices. They hope to sell it for less than $500 (approx. £312) initially.

"Disaster search and rescue after an earthquake is currently left to highly specialised teams with sophisticated and very expensive equipment," Aguilar noted. "But we hope that with our technology it could be expanded to volunteers with low cost units that could be tossed into air pockets and collapsed spaces in search of victims."

Aguilar and Young are now looking into the possibility of adding a tether to the camera so that it can be retrieved more easily by the user. They are also exploring the idea of adding motion capabilities to the device.

Laura Hopperton

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