Public Lab Research note

Three sixty

by cfastie | September 26, 2012 03:15 26 Sep 03:15 | #4014 | #4014

Six or seven years ago Illah Nourbakhsh and Randy Sargent at Carnegie Mellon University recognized that several technologies had matured to the point that an inexpensive device could point and shoot a camera in a grid pattern so that the photos could be stitched together into a seamless ultra-high resolution image. So they designed and built the Gigapan which exploited consumer-grade point and shoot cameras, tiny programmable microcontrollers, ubiquitous and powerful personal computers, modern image processing algorithms, and fast image-serving web sites and browsers.

I have used a Gigapan for a few years, and in 2010 at a CMU conference on gigapixel imaging in the sciences I heard Jeff Warren talk about Public Lab and DIY aerial photography. The elegance of Jeff's approach to aerial photography stayed with me. I slowly came to understand that a light weight device could point and shoot a camera while lofted by a kite (a flying Gigapan!), and I decided to acquire my first Canon Powershot, a pan/tilt kite photography rig, and my first real kite. About a year later I backed the Public Lab Kickstarter and got an infrared camera kit and started posting research notes about it at this site.

The first time I officially met Jeff Warren was last May at a PLOTS/Farmhack meetup in New Hampshire where we flew my completed Kickstarter IR camera rig for the first time. I met Don Blair at that meetup and learned about his plans to hold the UMass Open Science Workshop in Amherst during the summer. I attended that workshop almost on a whim and was allowed to demonstrate the infrared camera KAP rig to the group. I told them that I was struggling to figure out how to avoid the problem that when the flying camera stops working I have no way of knowing it. This was sort of a ploy to keep the audience engaged, but the newly forming Pioneer Valley Open Science (PVOS) group took up the challenge and began development on more than one approach to solving this real problem. I invited them to Vermont for a meetup to work on the projects and thank them for their efforts and suddenly LEAFFEST (the redundantly verbose Low Elevation Aerial Flights For Earth Sensing Technology) was born.

This past weekend at LEAFFEST the PVOS crowd got their first look at a motorized, microcontrolled, panning, tilting, camera rig which we lofted with a kite. Apparently Badel recognized that such a device could also be used on the ground (a terrestrial KAP rig!), and decided that he wanted one, and Ben decided that he could design one based on an Arduino and maybe make it for Badel. Badel casually mentioned this plan to me and he was startled when I pulled out my Gigapan imager. I set it up in the yard and began a demonstration gigapan of the LEAFFEST activity. As it rotated all the way around, capturing images for a 360° panorama, the circle was complete.

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