The folks over at Gigapan Systems, a collaboration between Google, Carnegie Mellon University and the NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group, have finally released to the public a new and very special toy. The GigaPan Epic mount is a robotic tripod for a standard digital camera that has the ability to create large panoramas and pictures with many magnitudes more detail than the average camera could take on its own. It works by positioning the camera automatically and taking potentially hundreds of photos. Specially designed software will then stitch the pictures together to create a seamless panorama which can be navigated and zoomed in on in the style of Google Earth, which has itself been upgraded to incorporate uploaded panorama’s taken by people around the globe into a layer that can be viewed in the mapping software.

A particularly impressive demonstration of the power behind this technology comes in the form of a panorama taken during the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Made up of 220 pictures and measuring almost 60,000 by 25,000 pixels, this behemoth of a photo ends up measuring a mightily impressive 1,474 megapixels. This sure puts any of the cameras out there currently to shame, with the average compact digital camera these days capturing around 10-12 megapixels and the latest prosumer digital SLR models having only recently topped 20 megapixels.

Gigapan Systems has set up a website, for users to create and upload their panoramic creations, placing a minimum of 50 megapixels per photo uploaded. Users can geolocate their panoramas when they are uploaded to become part of a Gigapan in Google Earth. An example of this beautiful panorama of the view from the roof of the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel which can be located here on Google Earth. When you visit the website you will find many stunning pictures and fantastic scenery image. My particular favorite was this panorama of a chocolate shop in Belgium. Having the freedom to focus in on the details of the individual boxes and even read their labels within the frame adds a very significant ‘cool’ factor.

This technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we can image and present various scenes. The heightened ability to zoom into the created images allows for them to still be displayed while conserving screen real-estate. It also provides those trying to frame artistically minded shots infinitely more detail to be creative with, as well as the ability to unobtrusively annotate minute details of the work.

The Gigapan Epic mount is now on sale for USD$379. The software used to stitch these gigapixel creations together, GigaPan Stitcher, is included with the Gigapan Epic.

The system works with "most digital point-and-shoot cameras" (there's a full listing here). A second model designed for larger digital and SLR cameras, labeled the Gigapan Epic 100, is promised to be on sale soon for the slightly higher price of USD$449.

Gigapan Systems has also promised to release the open source reference design soon for anyone knowledgeable and daring enough to attempt to create their own, which will be a handy addition for the true photo enthusiasts out there.

Stephen Saunders

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