The throwable panoramic ball camera first turned up on our radar just under two years ago, when Jonas Pfeil's eye-catching SIGGRAPH 2011 presentation hit the web prior to the conference. Unfortunately, his team has kept mum since then, save for a quick update that Angela Merkel had a chance to check out the device (accompanied by a photo of the German Chancellor holding it as if testing the ripeness of a melon). In the meantime, we caught wind of a couple other contenders that were specifically geared towards tactical reconnaissance applications, including a barbell-shaped variation that led us to question whether a sphere was the way to go after all. If Steve Hollinger's recent innovations for a "Ball with camera and trajectory control for reconnaissance or recreation" are any indication, we have our answer.
"Throwable camera innovations are accelerating with advancements in sensor and imaging microelectronics," stated Hollinger. "And with the advent of low-cost, high-speed cameras for outdoor recreation, an affordable throwable camera is finally within reach."
Hollinger's patent describes a ball-shaped camera with position and orientation sensors determining the relationship between a spiraling or spinning aperture and a subject of image capture. Such a relationship allows, for example, images to be captured, re-oriented and stitched into a panorama. The technology further allows for the stabilization of video, making a camera capable of registering frames captured in sequence. Images and video are transmitted wirelessly to the user's phone, tablet or desktop.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the so-called Squito is the fact that it's able to capture impressively seamless 360° images with only three cameras, thanks largely to the now-patented sensor technology. As with the GoPro, consumers will likely use the tennis-ball-sized device for "recreation, professional sports, architecture [and] landscape photography," while industrial applications include "reconnaissance, search-and-rescue, first responder scene assessment [and] 3D mapping applications"—such as SLAM, which refers not to dunks but to Simultaneous Localization And Mapping, the process by which robots or other autonomous vehicles acquire knowledge of their local environment (known or unknown).
The recent patent builds on Hollinger's previous IP, including patents from 2009 and 2010; the comprehensive timeline / reference section of the site also acknowledges both previously-seen throwable ball cameras, along with company milestones and notable developments in throwable image capture (not to be confused with the throwaway image capture afforded by smartphones).
Hollinger is currently open to licensing and manufacturing partnerships, and I must say I'm curious as to who will end up bringing this idea to market.
Hat-tip to Aaron Panone