For many years the holy grail of photographers has been to create a visual experience that transports a viewer to another place. The widespread emergence of digital cameras in the 1990’s created the canvas on which product developers, photographers and artists could manipulate captured images and quite literally re-shape the way we view the world around us.
Innovations in imaging technology have prepared the ground for the next generation of rescue cameras with of 360 spherical imaging. Recent advances in optics, sensors, LED lighting and the miniaturization of complex processing units that can run complex algorithms have allowed this imaging technology to move forward in a way that is practical, reliable and rugged enough to meet the needs of the emergency services globally.
The purpose of this article is to outline what spherical 360 imaging is and to summarize applications where it could add value, increase safety and improve outcomes.
To begin let’s get a better understanding of the historical of progression toward 360 Spherical imaging. It all began in the 17th century when artists painted vistas of local landscapes. Fast forward to the 1800’s when photographs were joined together to create Panorama’s for viewers to enjoy. Panorama is term derived from two Greek words: Pan meaning “everything” and Horama meaning “that which is seen”. The process of creating these is relatively simple. Use a single camera and take multiple images from a single point OR use multiple cameras each taking simultaneous images. To create the panoramic image the individual images have to be joined (stitched) together at the overlapping points.
Stitching is the process of combining multiple images with overlapping fields of view to produce a segmented panorama or high-resolution images. These tasks are performed via computer hardware and software. Most approaches to image stitching require nearly exact overlaps between images and almost identical exposures to produce seamless results. That said, the newest hardware can run complex algorithms needed to allow real time stitching of live video feeds. The number of calculations and the speed required to make the images fluid are truly enormous.
3D/Stereoscopic imaging is a technique that results in an illusion of depth in an image when seen by the viewer. The majority of stereoscopic imaging techniques present two slightly offset 2D images to each eye separately. The brain combines these images and gives the user a perception of depth. Typical examples of Stereoscopic viewing would be a View-Master or Google Cardboard It is important not to confuse 3D with 360 Spherical imaging they are completely different.
Spherical/ 360 Images
At the core of any spherical image is the type of projection the camera uses as a starting point to compile visual data. There are many different types of spherical projection techniques but to explain them all would be lengthy but here is a link for anyone interested in finding out more http://wiki.panotools.org/Projections. Essentially these projections are the foundation for the mathematical equations used by the software for de-warping spherical image so that it can be displayed on a flat 2 dimensional screen. In addition, stitching and blending algorithms put the images together into a seamless view that appears normal to the user. In the case of modern imaging these millions of calculations take place in fractions of a second.
Spherical/360 Imaging is a profound departure from what we are accustomed to. Capturing not only what is front of the person taking the picture, but also the image of what surrounds them. This captures a fully immersive high resolution image of a particular event at a given point in time. A single Spherical 360 recording can catalogue not only a snapshot of an object but also the interactive context in which it is situated. Observers of a recording after the fact can not only see what the operator is focused on but can also share in the experience of looking around at the surroundings or activities as if they were physically there.
In practical terms the real difference between standard pictures and a 360 image is not so much in how we take the images but in how we interact with them. Normally, if we take a picture or a video and want something else in the shot we move the camera and take another shot. With a 360 camera you take the shot and are able to look in any direction by simply swiping the view screen and move the image until you see what you want.
Examples Spherical images – Before & After de-warping & stitching
Virtually every sector of today’s world is on the move toward a mobile integrated, interoperable connected communication infrastructure and it is happening quickly. So why is the rescue sector, arguably the sector that could benefit most from new capabilities, lagging behind when it comes to new tech equipment. There are many opinions but it is most probably due to the fact that consumer grade electronics are not built to survive in a professional rescue operational environment.
In today’s world the ability to immediately record, interact and share visual information is virtually expected. Younger individuals starting up the ladder have far higher expectations of technology than those that came up a generation before. This expectation “gap” creates a challenge for Senior officers & Administrators that recognize the value a new technology can provide but then face challenges sourcing equipment that has a feature set that meets operational requirements and will survive both the environment and the user while still operating reliably. As it relates to 360 Spherical imaging this gap has been addressed in 2017 with the launch of a new category of rescue camera. Designed specifically for the emergency services; Equipment includes high definition image sensors, replaceable batteries, direct wire or encrypted wireless operation, mobile connectivity, spatial orientation, Integrated mapping, GPS/ Time/ Date stamping, IP67 construction, and integrated 2 way audio. The equipment can be used in multiple operational configurations to address multiple operation scenarios.
- On scene – create an all-encompassing visual record of an event
- Trench rescue – hang a 360 camera above a trench and stream the images to a tablet
- Structural Collapse – attach the camera head to a telescoping pole for victim location in voids
- Hazmat – wirelessly stream or share images to experts not on scene
- High Angle – Suspend a 360 camera over an edge and wirelessly stream to a relay team
- Fire Investigation- record the entire fire scene and include verbal notes for later review
- Vehicle extrication – Take a 360 image of the inside of a vehicle
- Training – improve training, review an entire scene in a virtual reality headset
If you would like more information or want to discuss how 360 imaging could help your Brigade or Department please contact Agility Technologies Corporation email: [email protected]
For more information, go to www.agilitycorp.com
1. Public Domain – Panorama Philadelphia downtown 1913. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Downtown_Philadelphia_Pano_1913.jpg
2. View-Master® is a registered trademark owned by Mattel. ©2017 Mattel. All Rights Reserved
4. Images © Copyright Paul Bourke used with permission