[Image: The “Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera” by Jonas Pfeil].

The “Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera,” designed by Jonas Pfeil as part of his thesis project at the Technical University of Berlin, creates spherical panoramas after being thrown into the air.

The camera “captures an image at the highest point of flight—when it is hardly moving.” It “takes full spherical panoramas, requires no preparation and images are taken instantaneously. It can capture scenes with many moving objects without producing ghosting artifacts and creates unique images.” You can see it at work in this video:

Pfeil explains in detail:

Our camera uses 36 fixed-focus 2 megapixel mobile phone camera modules. The camera modules are mounted in a robust, 3D-printed, ball-shaped enclosure that is padded with foam and handles just like a ball. Our camera contains an accelerometer which we use to measure launch acceleration. Integration lets us predict rise time to the highest point, where we trigger the exposure. After catching the ball camera, pictures are downloaded in seconds using USB and automatically shown in our spherical panoramic viewer. This lets users interactively explore a full representation of the captured environment.

It’s easy enough to imagine such a thing being mass-produced and taken up by the Lomo crowd; but it seems equally likely that such a technology could be put to use aiding military operations in urbanized terrain, with otherwise disoriented squad leaders tossing “robust” optical grenades up above dividing walls and blocked streets to see what lies beyond.

Either way, a throwable camera strong enough to withstand bad weather and strong bounces—and able to store hundreds of images—sounds like an amazing way to start documenting the urban landscape. In fact, the very idea that a “photograph” would thus correspond to a spherical sampling of all the objects and events in a given area adds an intriguing spatial dimension to the act of creating images. It’s a kind of reverse-firework: rather than release light into the sky, it steals traces of the light it finds there.