Ball Camera To Help First Responders
November 6, 2012

Bouncing Ball Camera Could Be Big Help For Emergency Responders

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

A new, ball-shaped camera will be able to help out emergency responders when needing to enter an area they are not sure is safe.

The tennis ball-sized device has six cameras that can instantly send a 360-degree picture to a smartphone.

Bounce Imaging, the company that built the ball, suggested it could sell the device for about a tenth of the cost of the cheapest rival devices.

Francisco Aguilar, the founder of Bounce Imaging, said the device could have a range of uses, including disaster search and rescue after an earthquake.

"But we hope that with our technology it could be expanded to volunteers with low-cost units that could be tossed into air pockets and collapsed spaces in search of victims," Aguilar said in a statement.

The technology, which features a rubber shell that helps it bounce while taking photos, was named one of Time Magazine's Best Inventions of 2012.

This is not the first attempt to create a ball-shaped camera. Scientists at Columbia University developed a 360-degree camera in the 1990s for use in remote locations. However, these cameras depended on being attached to robots.

A Scottish company announced in 2008 that it had started working on a standalone sphere containing fish-eye lenses that could be fired from a grenade launcher, but that project was abandoned later on.

Other companies that have created a spherical camera contraption have their products at a price tag of around $5,000. Bouncing Imaging says it will be selling its product at under $500.

BBC reported the technology was built for a "fire and forget" principal, allowing for an easier use than the more expensive products out on the market.

"After the ball is thrown, it sends whatever imaging and data it gathers back to a smartphone or tablet with an easy-to-use app," Aguilar told BBC. "When you're a police officer under fire working with your tactical gloves on, it is very difficult to operate a complex, often briefcase-sized, remote terminal or viewing unit.

He said his company had already received calls from emergency responders, and even nature photographers.

"The unit has slots for other types of sensors - for example, smoke and temperature sensors in a firefighting model, methane or coal dust detectors in mine inspection units, and so on - so the ball can send back additional data along with the images," Aguilar told the British news agency.

The device is even capable of taking infrared images so it could be used in dark locations.

Noel Sharkey, an expert in artificial intelligence and professor of robotics at the University of Sheffield, pointed out the device could be of use to people with the wrong intentions.

"So if you throw it over someone's private property, it could be used, for instance, by the paparazzi or by criminals who could just throw it over the roof and get lots of images in between," Sharkey told BBC.

Bounce Imaging said in the coming months, it could be putting its prototype in field-testing with several police units in Massachusetts.

It said it is also developing low-cost sensor units that not only provide an image of a space, but also is capable of transmitting relevant data like temperature and oxygen levels.

"Firefighters frequently must enter burning buildings searching for victims, putting their own lives on the line. While some larger departments have access to thermal imagers, such technologies are beyond the reach of most units," the company wrote on its website.