Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/04/26/stratospheric_panoramas/

Texan stitches stratosphere into stunning panoramas

One mighty orb and six vid cameras for fully spherical imagery

By Lester Haines

Posted in SPB, 26th April 2013 12:58 GMT

Take one mighty hydrogen-filled orb, six panoramic vid cameras, hours of image-stitching jiggery-pokery and you too can produce fully spherical panoramic imagery from the stratosphere...

Panoramic view at 29,000m

The 360 degree view at 29,000m

...or capture a 360 degree movie of your balloon burst at a breathtaking 29,378m (96,383ft):

The above is the result of two years' work by Texas local Caleb Anderson, who got in touch to share the results of Operation Stratosphere.

Inspired by high-altitude GoPro Hero vid footage he'd seen, and using his experience of panoramic stitching, Caleb set about blagging some cameras and putting together a data-gathering set-up comprising "four thermistors, one humidity sensor, two DS18B20 digital temperature sensors, one GPS module, one 1300mAh LiPo, one 1 gigabyte Micro SD, a huge amount of learning, and way too many late nights".

Caleb's electronic sensor rig

The sensor rig

As with all the best home-brew projects, the dining room table proved an essential work surface...

Caleb assembles the payload

The payload comes together

...before launch day arrived in Burnet, Texas:

Caleb prepares the payload at the launch site

Caleb preps his payload

Lights, cameras, action: A awful lot of GoPro kit

The payload ready for panoramic duty

The mighty orb...

Caleb and the expanding balloon

Caleb and his mighty orb

The massive balloon held under a couple of sheets

Hi-tech balloon control system

The balloon just before launch

Ready to roll...

The payload finally came down close to Salado, Texas, some 70km northeast of the launch site, but once Caleb had recovered his kit, the work really began.

Cunningly using the GoPro audio tacks to sync the footage in Audacity, Caleb was able to pull selected single frames from each of the six cameras to produce some impressive panoramas (best viewed here in Caleb's panoramic viewer):

The panoramic view at 2,300m

The panoramic view at 2,300m

Stitching video proved somewhat more challenging, not least because of the rotation of the payload. Here's an entertaining view of an uncorrected panorama:

As you can see from the balloon burst footage, Caleb was able to crack the problem using Hugin and a custom Python script. The full, tortuous process is described here.

The results speak for themselves. Here's another panoramic view and video of payload touch-down as seen from all six cameras:

Another panorama at 1,600m

Another lovely view at 1,600m

Caleb told us he's entirely self-taught, and currently earns a crust as a simulation engineer, having in the past "worn the hats of game developer, console programmer, and software engineer".

Regarding future stratospheric plans, he said: "I am floating an idea in my head to do another big launch with 12 GoPro Hero 3 cameras, redundant tracking systems, more data gathering, and a ground-based optical tracking system using a telescope and some software (the mount for which and the hardware for which I'll have to develop). It won't be easy, nor will it be soon." ®