Ball cam gives you picture of the whole world around you in one shot; just throw it high

German's masters project could be coolest toy cam that has not yet hit the market

Cool photography: Cams in ball catch 360 degree panorama when you throw it

Yesterday I wrote way too much about the wireless app dev secrets revealed by German scientists building wireless brakes for bicycles.

Now, thanks to a reader who Tweeted it because it was cool, I get to write about a another weird German invention. It's a toy ball embedded with tiny cameras that point in every direction, all of which take a picture at the same time. The ball/camera stitches them together into one spherical image of everything within the camera's view -- front, back, up, down, sides -- everywhere. The result is a panoramic photo in the shape of a sphere rather than just like a flat ring the way most panoramas do.

The concept and prototype were created by Jonas Pfeil, who just finished a masters degree in computer science at Technical University in Berlin.

Normal panoramic photos are fascinating, he said, because they mimic the broad human field of vision. Reproduced large enough, they mimic the view we would have of a place we've never actually visited.

Panoramas take a long time to shoot and develop and tend to have errors, however, because they're taken by a camera on a tripod turned slowly in a circle, snapping one arc of the view with each click.

Each photo is then stitched together (which is where the errors come in) to make one big, circular picture.

Panoramas provide a much more complete view than single shots, but are still pretty limited. You only see in one plane, like holding a hula hoop so your head is in the middle and looking all around at the image of the inside of its curve.

Here's one kind of blurry example that will give you an idea of its potential, though it looks like stitching arcs of image together are an issue for the ball camera, too.

If you're an SF geek, think of the two as the difference between Larry Niven's Ringworld – a planetary environment on a ribbon of metal orbiting its own sun from the same distance Earth is from Sol. That's a panorama.

Compare that to the awesomely theoretical Dyson Sphere – picture the Death Star built as living space instead of a ship, completely enclosing its sun from a distance of one astronomical unit, with a planetlike surface build on the inside skin, each piece of which as far away from the sun at its center as Earth is from the sun. (Wikipedia warns not to confuse it with the Dyson Ball, which is a big orange ball you use to push around an awesomely overpriced vacuum cleaner.)

Pfeil actually built the camera as his masters thesis, so it's not a commercial product yet. He is scheduled to present the Ball Camera at SIGGRAPH Asia 2011 Dec. 13-15 in Hong Kong, though, so if you like it, you may be shooting super-panoramas of the distance between you and your favorite partner in a game of Catch by this time next year.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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