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Bounce Imaging Hopes to Pioneer Cheap Throwable Cameras

By Wesley Fenlon

Less complex (and far cheaper) than a recon robot, this camera could be an invaluable tool for rescue workers and police.

There's something exciting about an incredibly complex, expensive piece of technology that you can pick up and throw. The recon scout Throwbot can fall 30 feet and roll around unharmed, preceding police into dangerous environments to keep an eye out for trouble. Boston Dynamics' Sand Flea isn't technically designed to be thrown, but boy can it jump--and take a serious impact. A startup called Bounce Imaging is designing a camera with a similar premise, but with one key difference: the device will be cheap enough to throw into a dangerous situation without worrying about retrieving it.

Bounce Imaging's creators, both MIT grad students, are working on their first prototype of a 360 degree camera about the size of a baseball. Bounce Imaging will be durable enough to throw into a burning building or disaster area, and will wirelessly relay panoramic shots to a mobile device. Six wide-angle cameras surrounded by LED flashes, a battery, and the spherical case will add up to between half a pound and a pound of weight.

Throwable cameras make sense for unknown environments... or dangerous alien bases.

One of the startup's founders served in Iraq and Afghanistan and knows the importance of military robots. But most military robots cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. They hope to sell this rollable camera for less than $500--cheap enough for the military to toss into a hazardous environment without planning to retrieve it.

Granted, that sounds pretty wasteful, and Bounce Imaging is considering adding a tether to the camera. Seems like an obvious (and cheap) addition. And how hard could it be? We've already been there, and done that, with the Yo Yo Ball.

Bounce Imaging's creators mention the possibility of integrating Sphero-like motion into the camera at some point. The Sphero wasn't much fun as a slow-moving toy, but the technology is perfect for a reconnaissance device. A Sphero packed with cameras and a durable shell could replace a scout robot for a fraction of the cost, as long as the terrain isn't too complex.

If you want to imagine what it's like to throw an expensive camera around, check out ThrowMeApp. It will take a picture of your horror-stricken face from above, about a second after you've hurled your $700 smartphone into the sky.