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Football's next big hit? Steady 'ball's eye view' of game now possible

Image of BallCam
A camera embedded in the side of a football give fans a unique view of the game. Computer algorithms convert the stomach churning blur of the ball spinning into a stable, wide-angle view.Carnegie Mellon University

For anyone who’s ever imagined what it’s like to be a football caught in the end zone and spiked on the turf in celebration, your dream is alive. Robotics researchers have embedded a camera into a football and developed an algorithm to give fans a new view — from the pigskin’s perspective.

When the football is thrown in a spiral, the embedded camera records a succession of frames as the ball rotates. The challenge is that, since footballs can spin at a stomach-churning 600 revolutions per minute, the raw video is unwatchable. The software algorithm converts the blurry, spinning footage into a stable, wide-angle view by discarding sky-facing frames and stitching together the remaining frames for a panorama.

The result is a field-facing view from the ball's perspective as it’s tossed down the field. Check it out in the video below.

The researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo realize the NFL may block the idea before camera-embedded footballs are fielded for regular play, but the technology is promising for game analysis during the pre-and post-game shows, for example.

The researchers suggest an artsy project that could capture the expressions of the faces of players during a game of catch. Perhaps this could be used to provide a baseball’s view of a homerun hit or a soccer ball soaring into the goal. How about a golf ball? In any case, as cameras get smaller — and more shock-resistant — more possibilities arise.

Progress on the BallCam will be presented March 8 at the Augmented Human International Conference in Stuttgart, Germany. Further fine tuning is needed to make the images flawless, such as a faster camera sensor and other techniques to reduce all the blurring.

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.