3 Questions with Zak Niazi of Circle Optics

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Photonics Media met Zak Niazi, CEO of Circle Optics, at Light and Sound Interactive 2019, which took place in Rochester, N.Y., in June. Niazi showed off the capabilities of his 360° parallax-free camera, which, according to the company’s website, is the first of its kind in the world. Circle Optics took fourth place and the Audience Choice award at the Luminate NY Accelerator Competition for optics, photonics, and imaging companies.

 Zak Niazi (left), CEO of Circle Optics, and Allen Krisiloff, systems engineer, with their parallax-free 360° camera at Light and Sound Interactive 2019.

Zak Niazi (left), CEO of Circle Optics, and Allen Krisiloff, systems engineer, with their parallax-free 360° camera at Light and Sound Interactive 2019.

Tell us about Circle Optics. How did the company come to be?

I started years ago, back at the University of Rochester as a student of optics, asking an adviser, “Why, if Google has cameras on top of cars mapping the planet, can I not strap on a headset and roam the streets of Venice, Italy, in 60 frames per second? Why one photo per street block instead of continuous moving walkthroughs?” Dustin Moore, who previously worked as a director of engineering at Immersive Media (the company that supplied Google with its initial 360 cameras), explained to me that all 360 cameras suffer from a defect known as parallax, where people have to stitch together images from overlapping cameras, pixel by pixel, to form a single cohesive image. One minute of 360 film can take five or more hours of an expert’s time to perfectly stitch together. For that reason, he explained to me, it’s not feasible to map the streets of the planet. I took in that information and said, if that’s the obstacle standing between us and a world mapped virtually, I’ll build a stitch-free 360 camera. Our dream is to make this technology accessible to everyone and so allow people of all different backgrounds and walks of life to experience the wonders of the world, not just those who can afford the plane ticket or are physically capable.

What problem does your technology solve?

A firm in Los Angeles will typically charge $2000 to $6000 per minute of finely stitched film. We eliminate this time and cost by eliminating the need for an expert to stitch. Furthermore, a lot of content creators today are afraid to capture dynamic content, where objects move quickly between stitch lines (regions between each camera in the multicamera rig), because this content will be prohibitively expensive in terms of time and cost to stitch later. A lot of creators throw away a lot of content as unusable simply because of the challenges stitching would pose. One creator filmed a documentary of moose that went up in planetariums all over Canada last year, and he told me that he couldn’t control where the moose went and so couldn’t control them crossing stitch lines. Twenty-two minutes of footage cost him 3000 hours of a professional’s time to stitch together. With the Circle Optics camera, creativity is no longer limited by technology. High mobility, high dynamic, close up, in or on top of cars, underwater — not even the sky is the limit. How cool would it be to put one of these on a Mars rover!

What can you tell us about how it works?

All other 360 cameras work by taking off-the-shelf cameras with circular overlapping fields of view that require stitching. We have designed our lenses from the ground up to have polygonal fields of view that snap together along their edges to produce seamless 360° images in real time. Because of this, each camera in our rig carves out a unique region of 4 π steradian, space-mapping objects to the same pixel all the time, regardless of object distance, whereas all other cameras with circular fields of view map objects to different pixels depending on the object distance, and thus require complex algorithms and manual time for experts to stitch and correct. We have truly built the first lens in the world designed from the ground up to be a real 360° camera.

Published: July 2019
The optical phenomenon that causes relative motion between two objects when the eyepoint is moved laterally. When parallax appears in a telescope between the image and reticle, this indicates the image has not been formed in the plane of the reticle.
parallaxCircle OpticsZak NiaziUniversity of Rochester360-degree optics360-degree video stitchingDustin MooreAllan Krisiloffstitch-freeOpticsOptics Special Section

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