Ina Fried

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Trio Uses Handful of Android Phones to Offer a 360-Degree Bike Ride

While panorama apps are now common, one team had a different idea on how smartphones might be able to fully capture a compelling scene.

Rather than use one phone to capture video or an immersive still picture, Joergen Geerds, Dan Finkler and Mark Sevenoff used six Sony Ericsson Xperia neo phones in a custom mount to record a ride down Slickrock Trail in Utah’s Moab Desert.

The group used a 3D printer to create the mount that held the six phones and recorded video on each phone, then stitched it all together. The result is an interactive video, playable on the Web, that allows viewers to replay the ride from all different angles, shifting smoothly from one position to another as the video plays.

The Moab outing is the centerpiece of an Xperia Studio project sponsored by Sony Ericsson that aims to show the creative possibilities of its products.

For Geerds, the panorama format was familiar as his main business is shooting large nighttime cityscapes. But, video was news.

“With the video I figured I wanted to go in a different direction, and bring more humanity in it,” Geerds said in an interview. That’s when Geerds got connected with Finkler, a New York-based developer, who created the bluetooth remote control software and Sevenoff, who did the actual bike riding.

One of the challenges with shooting video was that Geerds couldn’t find any commercial software for stitching together the panoramic videos. Instead, Geerds relied on the software he uses for processing stills. That meant breaking each video into a collection of hundreds of thousands of jpeg images.

“It certainly was the most complex project I’ve ever worked on,” Geerds said.

The hardest part, Geerds said, was learning to use the software to do the 3D printing that allowed the fabrication of the custom rigging used to mount the cameras on the bike.

The shoot itself was done the week of Sept. 19. Geerds said most things went relatively smoothly, although he found out later that one of the six cameras did get a bit wobbly on the ride down.

One surprise was that the phones’ battery life held up pretty well.

“We had tons of replacement batteries with us,” Geerds said, but they ended up not needing most of them, getting two to three hours of battery life from each camera phone. A bigger issue, he said, was running out of space on SD cards.

Another key was Finkler’s remote control software, which allowed the video recording to be stopped and re-started remotely using a seventh smartphone.

“We are trying to put more features into the software, and will probably release it on github once it’s more polished,” Geerds said.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work