Some of the best gadgets seem obvious in retrospect. One of those may turn out to be the Explorer Ball from Bounce Imaging, in Boston.
The appeal of the Explorer Ball is simple. Firefighters, disaster rescue workers, SWAT teams, or military troops can find themselves needing to enter an environment about which they know nothing. And surprises, in a military or rescue situation, can be a really bad thing. So getting an instant, up-to-the minute, detailed panoramic view of the environment would be really helpful.
The technology is clearly available. After all, a smartphone can create a panoramic image in seconds, one that you can easily scan through or enlarge. But how do you get that kind of smartphone capability into a potentially dangerous place before going into the place itself?
The answer, it seems, is obvious. You throw it.
Getting from that obvious answer to a camera-toting, Wi-Fi connected, extremely durable, throwable object is the hard part. And Bounce Imaging, launching at DemoFall 2013 last week, admitted that it’s not quite there yet. But it’s close. The prototype Explorer Ball carries six cameras and a Wi-Fi transmitter; it sends the images to a mobile device, where an app stitches them together into a panorama. It includes the capability to add sensors, say, temperature or carbon monoxide. And it carries a microphone and can transmit audio. What it can’t do quite yet is survive a hard fall, but the company is working on that and expects to have durability testing finished this year, in time to start field testing in a few months.
Bounce Imaging is planning to sell an emergency responder version for about $1000, a military version for something under $3000.
Photos: Bounce Imaging
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.