We were introduced to spherical photos mostly thanks to Google Street View. In 2007 Google, in collaboration with the company Immersive Media, started recording Street View in the USA. This type of service has been available in Croatia since 2012.
A little bit of history
The predecessor of photos that cover the entire sphere were photos which covered a panorama of 360° x 180°. You will probable be surprised by the information that the technology for the automated capturing of panoramic photos is a Croatian invention. Hrvoje Sarić, a cinematographer from Zagreb, invented and reported to the Federal Institute for Patents in 1972 the world’s first professional synchro-rotational photo camera SRF 360. Two similar photo cameras were produced in the world at the end of the 1980s, but the technical features of SRF 360 were much more advanced.
When the city of Zagreb was presented in Kyoto in 1975, a 12m long and 2m high photo of the Ban Jelačić’s Square taken by that camera was exhibited. The SRF 360 camera is one in the series of 70 inventions by the author Hrvoje Sarić, who in 1998 for the participation of Croatia at the “EXPO 98” in Lisbon, and later at the world exhibition in Hanover, constructed in a short time the world’s fully electronic structure of nine video cameras which recorded a full 360 degrees field of view.
From a technical perspective, technology used by Google for the creation of Street View is completely different. What first occurs to most people’s mind when they see a spherical photo is that it is an image taken with some type of camera which rotates and takes high speed pictures during the drive covering all directions at once. On the contrary, a completely different approach is used. In a nutshell, over the years, Google used several generation of cameras from its own production for creating this type of service. The latest technology (from the so called R7 generation of cameras) uses fifteen 5 megapixel cmos sensors.
“The next big thing”
For several years there have been rumors that the spherical photos as a medium are the next big thing, but that has never happened. Until 2012 cameras for automatic, instant production of this type of medium were price-wise inaccessible to an average user. If you were opting for a system with multiple lenses offered by companies such as Immersive Media or Point Grey, you had to spend several dozen thousand dollars. Objectively, this was definitely one of the main reasons why this technology hasn’t significantly expanded.
However, since 2012, and specially last year, the market of commercially less expensive low-end cameras, as well as accessories for those cameras, and accessible softwares for 360° degrees recording, has literally exploded. We are now talking about prices of a couple hundred dollars which make products much more accessible than in the past. In the caption of this article, there is a screenshot from Google, i.e. pictures of devices which appear when you google this term. All major players in consumer electronics participate in the race in this domain, and even Facebook and Youtube started offering support for browsing that type of content since last year, let alone the occurrence of countless number of new VR services. And once again, nothing important occurred. A turning point for this medium hasn’t happened yet. I would dare to say that people still haven’t accepted it.
On the other hand, this technology has been widely accepted and applied in engineering. For an average user for leisure capturing of things and events the easiest is to take the smartphone from the pocket and take a photo, while using an additional device and also an additional software for a 360° field of view, can be the main reason for not using it in the first place. Those are two extra steps for which you don’t have time. On the other hand, if you wish to get the job done, these cameras can be very interesting. We will show you their value on a simple example. Below, on a patchwork of 6 photos, is shown one of our rooms in our office. The pictures show all the elements of the room, but we doubt that anyone could make a complete picture of how the room really looks like from this set of photos.
Below you can find a spherical photo which shows the same room. If you click on it and interactively navigate though the photo, you will get a clear picture of how the room actually looks like. The photo is in low resolution and was captured under poor lighting with an amateur camera.
4D / office @ Malinska #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA
Furthermore, on a Youtube video below, you can see a spherical video while crossing the viaduct Dubračina in Crikvenica. While watching the video, you can move what you see on your screen with a cursor and choose a frame of your interest.
When collecting data on the field, this feature drastically shortens the time spent on the field and in the office editing data. Professional application of this technology is indisputable. From marketing to the technology point of view, this medium is changing the way the job is done. In our company we have recognized its value in GIS when Google integrated Street View in maps and introduced Pegman. Countless times we noticed that users from the asset management industry were turning off GIS and turning on Google Street View because there they would find their subject of interest.
This year we have developed our own solution for creating and viewing virtual tours on a GIS Cloud platform. Our equipment allows us to record in any environment, while the software allows our users to take a virtual tour for any part of the system which interests them.
On the other hand, use of this technology will definitely become more popular in commercial use for the masses thanks to ever growing availability of equipment, entertainment VR services, and Facebook’s and other social networks’ intentions to make social interaction more virtual.