Nov. 2, 2012 at 7:00 PM ET
A company has created a spherical camera-covered device that can be thrown into potentially dangerous locations and will relay back a panoramic image and other important data. It's hoped that firefighters and police could use the baseball-sized device instead of entering buildings or turning corners blindly.
Pursuing a fleeing suspect or navigating a burning building are naturally difficult tasks, but they would be made a bit less so if officers and firefighters knew what was around the next corner instead of having to check themselves. If there might be poisonous gas, an ambush or other hazards waiting for them, this sensor ball created by Bounce Imaging can be sent ahead to investigate.
The tough, rubberized ball has six cameras on it, and takes pictures as it rolls — and its near-infrared cameras allow it to capture images even in dim environments. These photos are relayed back to a computer or smartphone, where they are stitched into a panorama:
Other information can also be collected including air samples, radiation levels and temperature. Different versions are planned with different loadouts: The military will have different needs from firefighters, and police will have different needs from rescue crews. But all could benefit from the ability to see from wherever they can throw this sensor ball.
The device costs about $500 at the moment, but is still in prototype form, and costs would be reduced by mass production. Bounce Imaging's founder, Francisco Aguilar, tells New Scientist that a more final version of the device will be tested by Massachusetts police and SWAT in January.
If all goes well, the devices could be adopted more widely and consumer versions might even follow. It's easy to imagine situations where it would be useful around the house — although you'd probably want to keep it away from the dog.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.