Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, in collaboration with scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center, have built a low-cost robotic device called GigaPan that enables any digital camera to produce gigapixel (billions of pixels) panoramas.
By the end of 2008, Carnegie Mellon University will release its new technology GigaPan to the general public. This technology gives people a new way to share detailed images of their surroundings. It is used by students to document their local communities, by leading scientists to conduct research, and by organizations such as Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Roboto250 for educational purposes. To make sharing of GigaPan panoramas possible and easy, Carnegie Mellon launched a public Web site (www. gigapan.org) where people can upload, share and interactively explore panoramic images of any format.
"We have taken imagery and made it a new tool for exploration and for enhancing global understanding," said Illah Nourbakhsh, Associate Professor of Robotics at the Robotics Institute, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, who led GigaPan's development with Randy Sargent, Senior Systems Scientist at Carnegie Mellon West in Moffett Field, California. "A picture makes it possible to cross linguistic barriers," Nourbakhsh explained. "But GigaPan provides so much information that it leads to conversations between the person who took the panoramas and the people who are exploring them and discovering new details."
Sargent got the idea for GigaPan when he was a technical staff member at Ames Research Center, helping to develop software for combining images from NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers into panoramas. He became convinced that the same technology could open people's eyes to the diversity of their own planet. "It's increasingly important to give people a broad view of the world, particularly to help them understand different cultures and different environments," he said. "It's too easy to have blinders on and to only see and understand what is local."
GigaPan's hardware technology is a robotic camera mount, jointly designed and manufactured by Charmed Labs of Austin, Texas. It allows any digital camera to take hundreds of overlapping images of landscapes, buildings or rooms. With the software developed by Carnegie Mellon and Ames, these images can be arranged and digitally stitched together into a single gigapixel image. The layer of GigaPan is created on Google Earth, with a zooming feature similar to Google Earth's.
Projects and Achievements
GigaPan is part of a larger effort known as the Global Connection Project, led by Nourbakhsh and Sargent. Its purpose is to make people all over the world more aware of their neighbors. Currently, Nourbakhsh and his colleagues are working with UNESCO's International Bureau of Education (IBE) and its Associated Schools Network on a project that will link school children in different parts of the world together to explore issues of cultural identity through a classroom project. Earlier accomplishments of Global Connection include the publication of the National Geographic magazine photography and story layer on Google Earth.