360cam: The go-anywhere, mount-everywhere, see-everything life-capturing camera hits Kickstarter


posted Tuesday, May 20, 2014 at 5:16 PM EDT


Here's a riddle to while away a little of your Tuesday afternoon: What talks to your smartphone or tablet, knows precisely where it is at all times, and is just as at home underwater or in a light-bulb socket as it is in the palm of your hand?

Need another hint? It also shoots 360-degree spherical video and still images, which can be written to a memory card or streamed in near-real time over the internet.

Still stumped? The answer is the 360cam, a clever new gadget in development by Lille, France-based tech company Giroptic, which just entered the crowdfunding process on Kickstarter.

The 360cam is more compact, approachable and affordable than Giroptics' earlier Girocam.

The 360cam isn't Giroptic's first 360-degree camera, which bodes well for the company's ability to bring the product to market. Back in 2011, it launched the Girocam, an ambitious 360-degree still camera with three fisheye lenses and 10-megapixel sensors. The Girocam is no longer available, and a high price tag of €1,500 (US$2,100) coupled with its specialized nature kept it outside the mainstream. With the much more affordable -- and yet also smaller and more capable -- 360cam, though, Giroptic hopes to change all that.

The egg-shaped, waterproof 360cam packs a lot of features into a relatively compact package, and while it's certainly unconventional in design, it can do things few cameras can. Like the Girocam before it, a triplet of 185-degree fisheye lenses, each with six glass elements and a fixed f/2.8 aperture, surround the top of the body. Between them, they capture light from almost all directions -- only a small area beneath the 360cam is uncovered.

When used underwater, 360cam needs an optional rubber lens ring installed over its lenses.

When shooting underwater -- the camera is sealed to allow use at depths of up to 30 feet (10m) -- an optional rubber ring with three plastic lens cups must be mounted over the built-in lenses to correct for refraction. Dimensions of the camera are 2.7 by 2.7 inches (6.9 x 6.9 cm), and weight is just 6.3 ounces (180g). Power comes from a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and data is stored on a standard Micro SD card with up to 64GB capacity.

Giroptic has yet to reveal any details about sensor type, size or resolution, but between the 360cam's three image sensors, the device is able to create a 4,096 x 2,048 pixel 360-degree panorama, or to output a 2,048 x 1,024 pixel 360-degree panoramic video at a rate of 25 or 30 frames per second. Images are stored as JPEGs, and movies as H.264-compressed, .mp4-format video.

360cam imagery uses equirectangular projection. When correctly projected, the strip at the bottom becomes the 360cam logo, occupying the area blocked by the camera's own base.

Content created with the 360cam has an equirectangular projection, allowing common 360-degree video and photo viewers such as KRPano or Kolor Eyes to be used to view it. And to match its three lenses and sensors, the 360cam also sports three microphones.

As well as standard stills and video, 360cam can work in a number of other modes, capturing stills with a self-timer, creating HDR imagery in-camera, and even shooting time-lapses. A built-in gyroscope allows digital video stabilization, and a GPS receiver lets the 360cam tag content with its capture location. And while it lacks a built-in LCD monitor on which to review your creations, an array of LEDs on the body of the 360cam provide information on operating mode, while two buttons on either side of the display are used to change modes, start or stop capture, and power the device on or off.

Giroptic will provide remote control / reviewing apps for Android and iOS. Windows and Mac machines will also get viewers, and the Oculus Rift will be supported for playback, too.

But the built-in display is really only meant to supplement the device's real control method. Like more than a few gadgets these days, 360cam is best controlled from your smartphone or tablet via Wi-Fi wireless networking. Apps will be available for both Android and iOS devices, and all camera functions can be controlled remotely, including the GPS and gyroscope functions. You can also review your photos and videos on your smart device, and video players will also be offered for Mac / Windows PCs and the Oculus Rift, providing an immersive playback experience.

Where things get really cool, though, is that you're not just limited to shooting short clips. Since it can stitch content from its three cameras in real time, the 360cam can also be used to stream live 360-degree spherical video using the RTSP protocol. That opens up the possibility of using 360cam to create live, immersive event video. And since Wi-Fi can be flaky at large events packed with a smart device-using crowd, Giroptic is also planning to offer an optional video-streaming base that will add a standard Ethernet connection to 360cam.

Accessories will extend the 360cam's core functionality. Here, an Ethernet port will be added for live streaming.

The ability to stream from 360cam also makes the device attractive as a security or monitoring camera, and here, too, another clever accessory is planned. A light bulb adapter will allow 360cam to draw power from a standard light bulb socket, while streaming via Wi-Fi to your home or office network. (And from there, to a cloud service, for remote viewing.) The adapter will work with both 115 and 230-volt power supply, and while it means you'll lose a light bulb, it strikes us as quite a clever way of mounting the camera in the middle of a room. Chances are that you already have a light fixture there which it could be placed in, after all.

The Giroptic 360cam is currently in the crowdfunding phase, with a goal of US$150,000 required for the project to receive funding. (Currently, the Kickstarter page shows a total of US$67,000+ has been received, with 44 days to go.) You can get your place in queue (and a 360cam with underwater lens cups when it ships this November) for US$300 at the current time, and eventual list pricing is expected to be US$500.

A full 360cam kit with all bundled and optional accessories will cost around US$1,000 at retail.

A kit bundling the light bulb adapter will cost US$390 now, or US$600 retail. The kit with ethernet streaming base, meanwhile, is US$580 on Kickstarter, or US$880 retail. Finally, a kit with all accessories costs US$690 on Kickstarter, or US$990 retail. Developers can get early access and custom firmware for US$1,300 to US$5,000.

The 360cam will ship with a pouch, hand strap, USB cable and battery, in all bundles above. Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac OS X apps will be provided free of charge. Find out more on the 360cam Kickstarter page.