Contact: Bob Nelson For immediate release
(212) 854-5573 June 5, 1997
360-Degree Videocam Developed at Columbia
Home Users Could Use Joystick to Bring Any View to TV Screen;
Other Applications Seen in Security, Teleconferencing, Robotic
A Columbia University computer scientist has developed a digital
videocamera that can see in all directions at once.
Placed atop a concert stage or at midfield of a sports event, the Omnicamera
could provide a 360-degree view - an entire sphere - to television or Internet
viewers. With a joystick or mouse, they could bring any view to their screens, and
see not hemispheric perspective, but normal, undistorted, linear perspective.
They could even create onscreen windows to see several views at once.
As the camera has no moving parts, the number of viewers who can see the
view they wish to see is limited only by the bandwidth of the connecting network.
The technology is already in prototype at Columbia's School of Engineering
and Applied Science, where Shree K. Nayar, professor of computer science, has
spent six years researching his physics-based approach to artificial vision. His
laboratory has developed four Omnicamera prototypes, with configurations for surveillance, teleconferencing, entertainment and robotic vision.
The Omnicamera consists of a miniature digital videocamera mounted in a
frame aimed directly at the apex of a parabolic mirror, a small inverted cup of
polished metal enclosed within a transparent hemisphere. Columbia graduate
student Venkat Peri has developed software that allows multiple Omnicamera
images to be displayed on a computer screen in linear perspective at any
magnification. Columbia has filed a U.S. patent application covering the
Omnicamera videocamera and the Omnivideo software.
"Computer vision research is attempting to construct systems that can
perceive our environment using man-made sensors, such as cameras, in a way
that is analogous to how we use our eyes," Professor Nayar said. "The
Omnicamera can view more of a scene than the human eye can, which makes it
valuable for a number of applications."
Two Omnicameras mounted back to back can produce views of 360 degrees,
a complete sphere, for surveillance or security operations. In teleconferences, an
Omnicamera can show simultaneously every participant seated around a table,
in either hemispheric or linear perspective. It will allow a mobile robot to
The Omnicamera's parabolic optics ensure that it has a single effective
center of projection, a single point through which all rays from a scene must pass
on their way to the camera's lens. That design mimics a camera that takes in
only linear perspective, and allows the Omnicamera's computer software to
generate linear perspective images that are free of distortion. Other vision
researchers have tried to create omnidirectional vision systems using fisheye
lenses or planar, spherical, conical or pyramidal mirrors. Most of these do not
yield the single viewpoint necessary to construct linear perspective images, or, if
they do, use elaborate and hence expensive designs, Professor Nayar said.
His other innovations include a computer vision system that can recognize
an object it has seen before, even if the previous encounter was from a different
angle or in different lighting. He has also produced a three-dimensional
videocamera that can generate a depth map of a scene at video rate.
For further Omnicamera information, or to see an online demonstration,
visit the laboratory's web site: http://www.cs.columbia.edu/CAVE.
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