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  • Grenade cam would let military launch and look

Photonics Spectra
Feb 2009
Laura S. Marshall,

EDINBURGH, UK – So much can be inspired by a simple cup of tea. Just ask the late author Marcel Proust, whose novel “Remembrance of Things Past” draws upon a memory that floods back when a madeleine is dipped into a cup of tea.

Or you could ask Paul Thompson, hardware engineer at Dreampact Ltd., whose company is developing what could be called a camera grenade – all thanks to a cuppa.

The Dreampact team – from left, Paul Thompson, Pete Cronshaw and Stuart Pooley – hold a model of the iBall production device. Photo by Peter Kelly Pictures, courtesy of Dreampact Ltd.

Thompson and his team had entered the UK Ministry of Defence’s 2007 Competition of Ideas, which sought to encourage the development of technologies to assist the nation’s troops. The competition has since been expanded to become the Center for Defence Enterprise, an online portal for anyone with an innovative defense-related idea; the CDE also offers a Grand Challenge to keep the competitive fires burning.

The Edinburgh team knew it wanted to participate but wasn’t sure what the focus of its project should be.

“We discussed the merits of one idea for ages and ages – getting nowhere,” Thompson said. “In the middle of this, my colleague Stuart Pooley went out to make a pot of tea and came back into the room with the bare bones of the iBall concept.

“The best ideas happen over a cup of tea!”

Now, a camera grenade sounds like something James Bond probably has had kicking around for ages, but the iBall really is something new for those of us who don’t inhabit books or movies. “There are devices that provide video feed that is unstabilized during flight or stabilized once the device has come to rest,” Thompson said. But there’s nothing like the iBall, which will offer stabilized real-time video before, during and after flight.

“It’s a 360° live video camera that provides a stabilized image, independent of the movement of the iBall, with a fixed perspective that has been chosen by a user,” he said. “It can be thrown – or otherwise propelled – by users into potentially dangerous areas to provide vital information to them prior to their entry, and it does so during its trajectory into the area where it has a clear field of view, and while maintaining the element of surprise.

“The advantage it gives to troops is that they don’t have to put themselves in danger by going into a hazardous area without prior knowledge.”

To maintain stability of the image, the device gyros to measure rotational motion during flight “and uses this information to stabilize the images,” Thompson said. He added that the camera inside the iBall uses two CMOS image sensors and a fish-eye lens.

Although the iBall is “still at working prototype stage,” Dreampact is trying to get it ready for battle as quickly as possible. Development of the device was funded by the Competition of Ideas, but Thompson didn’t say whether the funding included an allowance for tea. If it doesn’t, perhaps it should.

fish-eye lens
A type of wide-angle lens that has an angular field above 140° and that exhibits barrel distortion. The most commonly used fish-eye lenses have a field of about 180°, though they are manufactured up to 200°.
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