NASA, Google and Carnegie Mellon develop a gigapixel digital camera for the masses

NASA and Carnegie Mellon University researchers have teamed to build a robotic device that lets any digital camera to produce gigapixel (billions of pixels) panoramas, called GigaPans. The hardware behind GigaPan images is a robotic camera mount, jointly designed and manufactured by Charmed Labs.  The tripod-like mount makes it possible for a digital camera to take hundreds of overlapping images of landscapes, buildings or rooms. It accomplishes this by precisely manipulating the camera's pan and tilt gaze with precision motors, researchers said. Then, using software developed by Carnegie Mellon and NASA’s Ames Research Center, these images can be arranged in a grid and digitally stitched together into a single image that could consist of tens of billions of pixels, the scientists said in a release.   These huge image files can then be explored by zooming in on features of interest in a manner similar to Google Earth. In cooperation with Google, researchers also have created a GigaPan layer on Google Earth. Anyone using Google Earth can now fly into these GigaPan panoramas in the context of exploring the world.  A gigapixel camera that can see stars millions of times fainter than are visible to the naked eye has been installed on the Pan-STARRS-1 telescope on Halekala, Maui, to scan the skies for "killer" asteroids and other objects that might pose a danger to Earth. The advanced digital camera -- the largest in the world -- was built at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu. The full observatory will consist of four 1.8-meter diameter optical systems that will be aimed at the same point in the sky, and each telescope will be equipped with its own gigapixel camera. The Pennsylvania Board of Tourism is using the GigaPan to let people virtually explore Civil War sites. The technology is also being used for Robot250, an arts-based robotics program in the Pittsburgh area. Robot250 will increase technical literacy by teaching students, artists and other members of the public how to build customized robots.  Besides being a tool for education, researchers see the GigaPan system as an important tool for ecologists, biologists and other scientists. They plan to foster this effort by making several dozen GigaPans available to scientists with support from the Fine Foundation of Pittsburgh.  Researchers said they have begun a public beta process with the GigaPan hardware, Web site, and software. If you would like to give a GigaPan imager a try go here. Submit your information on or before October 19, 2007. We will be informing our applicants on October 26. The GigaPan camera system is part of a larger effort known as the Global Connection Project, a joint venture of Carnegie Mellon University, NASA, Google, and National Geographic. The project's long-term goal is to help us learn the planet by connecting people, places and events through the utilization, exploration and sharing of dynamically viewable images. 

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