A Giga-Pixel Breakthrough

by Caroline Cohoon | October 12, 2007

Forget MEGApixels and start taking GIGApixel images with your digital camera. That's right, with your tiny, point-and-shoot digital camera. New technology from Carnegie Mellon University in collaboration with NASA's Ames Research Center, Google and local Austin company, Charmed Labs now brings consumers the ability to create and share multibillion-pixel panoramas.

They are called "GigaPans." Carnegie Mellon and Ames developed software that could digitally stitch together hundreds of overlapping images to create one large, extremely high resolution picture. Charmed Labs is an electronics company from Austin, Texas that has worked with Carnegie Mellon on past projects. For this endeavor, they were able to create a low-cost robotic device in which a point-and-shoot digital camera can be mounted to take the necessary pictures.

The device is fully automatic, the operator specifies the target size for the panorama, and simply lets the device take off on its own. You can even create a complete dome panorama, capturing 360 degrees from sky to ground. Currently, only a consumer model that holds point-and-shoot cameras is being tested, but a professional model that can take Digital SLRs is also in the works, for a possible introduction mid-2008.

Charmed Labs is sponsoring a beta testing program, offering the device for only $279 to volunteers who will provide feedback and test images. You can apply for the beta program online through Charmed Labs' website up until October 19, 2007. Even when the device is on the open market in the future it will likely retail at only $350 - $400. It should also be readily available, being sold through equipment suppliers and camera stores.

"One of the primary goals of GigaPan is to capture stunning panoramic images of our world using technology that is affordable to the ordinary consumer." Charmed Labs' website states.

One of the most amazing features of a GigaPan image is the ability to explore the detail. Because of the billions of pixels, you can easily zoom into an image and see with brilliant clarity all kinds of little details in the scene. Now, thanks to Google, people all over the world can share and view GigaPans on the website, www.gigapan.org and in the Google Earth application.

There are only about 30 devices out and around the world at this time, and when browsing the images in Google Earth you can see that those who have access to a GigaPan device are certainly doing their best to capture as much as possible of their world.

The Pennsylvania Board of Tourism is documenting Civil War sites with the GigaPan so that people worldwide can virtually explore them. Also, a program through UNESCO's International Bureau of Education will utilize the GigaPan to help school children document their community and share it with other school children around the world. It appears that the GigaPan will have many social, educational and scientific uses.

This camera system is part of the Global Connection Project through CMU, whose "purpose is to make people all over the world more aware of their neighbors."

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