If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then surely a GigaPan is worth a million. For a little over a year, a team at Carnegie Mellon University has been promoting a camera robot — originally developed by NASA to snoop around Mars — for home-planet use. The unit, which can be used with almost any digital camera, costs just under $300, but the “stitching” software that creates the signature zoom & pan panoramas, is free. Also, unlike Microsoft’s Photosynth, it is compatible with both Mac and Windows. (National Geographic partnered with Microsoft Live Labs to create Photosynth images of global landmarks, which, unfortunately, cannot be viewed from my MacBook.)
The images are stunningly addictive. Like Peter Parker-turned-Spiderman, you’ll find yourself able see farther, deeper and with more clarity than you’d ever imagined. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take long to get past the realization that privacy as we knew it is gone. With police cameras at every intersection, surveillance cameras everywhere else (including the new 5-eyed wonder from Scallop Imaging that takes up about as much space as a light switch) and Google Earth, perhaps we’ve known it’s been gone for while. Now, at least, we get to share the pictures.
Once you click over to the GigaPan site, you won’t be coming back to this post any time soon. But before you leave, a few ideas to think about, along with a few links to get you started:
GigaPan is part of the Global Connection Project (Carnegie Mellon University, NASA, Google, and National Geographic), which has the noble and ambitious mission of using maps and images to improve cross-cultural understanding and to learn about the Earth. Toward that end, GigaPan and UNESCO have collaborated on a school program, outfitting students in South Africa, Trinidad, Tobago and the U.S. with digital cameras, Gigapans, software and a private website to share images (see video – “Gigapan Conversations: Diversity and Inclusion in the Community”). Carnegie Mellon’s Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor of robotics, explains it’s all about story-telling:
That’s a lot of of money and gear for the benefit of a few, but these are pilot programs designed to explore potential.
That potential is now bursting out in all directions. Earlier this month, the 10,000th image was uploaded onto the GigaPan website.
You can begin with any panoramic image on the site and quickly catch on to Gigapan’s charms. Once you have had a chance to investigate on your own, here are some links that show some of the range of application:
Up Close with Mushrooms (note the Google Earth map in the lower right corner of the screen with the location of the tree stump)
The Livestock Market at San Francisco El Alto, Guatemala (a UNESCO shot)
And the ever-popular Burning Man GigaPan.
Now…How could Gigapan be used for disease surveillance or humanitarian work? So far I don’t think it has, but the possibilities are certainly there.
iPhone Fun: Seadragon (PhotoSynth redux) and 3-D Photographs
What could be better than panning and zooming on a laptop? Panning and zooming on a cell phone, of course. Microsoft has just released, Seadragon, a free app for the iPhone (!) that does just that (PCWorld review). Although you cannot experience and share images in quite the same way as GigaPan, there are millions of potential Seadragon cameras already in people’s pockets. So ubiquitous is the iPhone, in fact, it now ranks as one of the most popular cameras for flickr photos.
Looking for something even simpler? Check out this an article by Xconomy’s Wade Roush for adapting the Gigapan of its day — stereo pictures — for viewing on iPhone, no software required.
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