In the century and a half since it was invented, has the basic user experience of consumer photography changed all that much? Cameras have gotten smaller, more rugged, more sensitive, sharper and smarter. But you still basically hold a box in your hands, point and shoot. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But what if the basic interaction with your camera was completely different--so much that it only takes a photo when it leaves your hands? This "Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera" brings that vision to life, with some truly clever technology and design to boot.
The idea is simple. Panoramic photos need a 360-degree view, which is easiest to get from a high vantage point. What’s the easiest way to get the camera up high? Toss it. This device, a concept design created by Jonas Pfeil, Kristian Hildebrand, Carsten Gremzow, Bernd Bickel, and Marc Alexa, unifies the user experience, the physical design, and the necessary technology in a way that’s almost iPod-like in its elegance. I watched five seconds of the video and my hands were itching to play with it. (Alas, it’s not for sale--yet.)
The camera uses a spherical array of embedded cell phone cameras to capture the panoramic view, and an accelerometer to sense the apogee of your toss--that is, the highest point in its trajectory and ideal moment to snap the photo. An appealing body made of asymmetrically tesselated green foam cushions the landing in your hands or on the ground, and software included with the camera auto-stitches the snapshots into an interactive panorama after you download the data via USB.
The photos themselves aren’t super-impressive, with lots of artifacting and fish-eye distortion--but a) this is just a student-designed prototype and b) is image quality really the point of a device like this? Think of the Flip: it was all about fun, not perfection. The Throwable Panoramic Camera could be a blockbuster in the same way, by making the experience of shooting an end in itself, instead of just a means. Let’s hope the student team finds a manufacturer with the foresight to take their ingenious invention to market.