Hotel Tech: 2015 is the year of the 360º Spherical Camera

[Revised: 3 June 2014 to include Giroptic 360cam announced on Kickstarter 20 May 2014]

If a photo is worth a thousand photos, a 360º photo sphere is worth a thousand photos to help travelers plan and book their hotels.

That's why major hotel brands – such as Best Western International – are spending millions of dollars engaging pro photographers to shoot 360º spherical virtual tour photo spheres of their hotel properties, reports Tnooz. By the end of 2014, Best Western will have 360ºs for all its 2,200 hotels in North America, according to the company's press release in December 2013.

Yet, many major hotel brands, Independent hotels, B&Bs and vacation rentals simply go without 360ºs because of the cost, time and expertise required to shoot professional quality 360ºs of their properties.

Innovative Disruption in the Creation of 360º Photo Spheres

Now imagine an easy, fast and affordable solutions that could dramatically reduce the cost, time and expertise to create 360º photo spheres.

Do it yourself (DIY) 360º photography solutions will be embraced by major hotel brands; timeshares, vacation rental home owners; and convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs) – to help with their visual storytelling.

When the ball drops at midnight in Time Square to signal the start of 2015, it will also get the ball rolling for the year of DIY 1-click 360º spherical cameras that require no training or special photography skills to use.  Simply touch the button!

Eight New 360º Photo Sphere Photography Solutions Under $600

At least eight easy, fast and affordable ($600 to $150) hands-free photography 360º photo sphere solutions will be available by December 2014 and go full throttle in 2015: (Listed: $$$$ --> $) [Chart]

  • Panono (Panono GmbH) – slightly larger than a grapefruit (4.33 inches across), this 108 mega-pixel hands-free 360º photo sphere solution triggers 36 cameras simultaneous to capture a spherical image. [The file format is TBD, as of 3 February 2014.]

The stitching is done in the the cloud. While 360ºs can be shot using a pole or tripod, the Panono can also be tossed in the air, which makes it perfect for capturing moments in time at events. For examples of images shot with a prototype, please click here.  Panono has Wi-Fi and built-in Flash drive. Panono is expected to sell for $599 and be available in September 2014 in the Panono Online Store (preorder now for $549, plus $30 shipping.). 

“You toss it in the air and an accelerometer inside the camera measures the launch acceleration to calculate when the camera is at its highest point and barely moving. At that point, all 36 cameras are triggered and the moment is captured, 360° X 360° of it,” says the Panono website. “For the first time, you can have people – including yourself – in your panoramic pictures without worrying about anybody moving in between shots, like what happens with typical panoramic images that you create by spinning around to take a series of single images. Now everyone can be in the picture and have a fun time taking and sharing it.” [For a review of Panono by Digital Photography Review, please click here.]

  • Bublcam (Bubl Technology Inc.) – slightly larger that a baseball, this 14 mega-pixel hands-free 360º photo sphere solution triggers 4 cameras simultaneously to capture an HDR 3840x3840 spherical .jpg image. The cameras feature 190º lenses and the images are stitched in camera and image stabilization. Bublcam has Wi-Fi that syncs with Dropbox, Google Drive and Younity; USB and MicroSD card. Bublcam also shoots 360º video. Pre-orders are available within the Bublcam Online Store for $579 plus shipping. Bublcam and will be available in June 2014. For examples of 360º photo spheres shot with the prototype Bublecam, please click here. [For a review of Bublcam by Gigaom, please click here.] [Blog Post: We Get Around Three DIY Bublcam Bundles]

360cam by GIROPTIC

360cam by GIROPTIC

  • 360cam (GIROPTIC) – the "egg-shaped" design includes three fixed f/2.8 185º fish-eye lenses (360º x 300º field of view) that "are synchronized to simultaneously capture and stitch images in real time inside the camera.  The 360cam includes GPS (for image tagging), Gyroscope (for image stabilization), 3 microphones, Wifi (including live video streaming, MicroSD (64GB) and Micro USB. Equi-rectangular 8 megapixel .jpg images are 4096 x 2048. The camera also includes: a time-laps timer up to 60 second intervals and HDR photography. The 360cam is also compatible with Oculus Rift "to step into 360º virtual reality". ($498 • Available: November 2014.)
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  • Geonaute 360 (Geonaute.com) – a little smaller than a baseball, the Geonaute 360 features three 8 megapixel sensors and in-camera stitching. The hands-free three-lens camera creates 4096 x 2048 pixels JPG 360º x 150º photo spheres. The Geonaute 360 mount is compatible with GoPro accessories. 

For examples of images shot with a prototype, please click here. The camera includes a 10 second timer and 360º burst mode of six spheres per second.

Geonaute 360 includes microSD card and microUSB for output. Pre-orders for the Geonaute 360 camera are being accepted for $499 in the Geonaute Online Store. The company expects to begin shipping in Spring 2014.

Geonaute won a 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show Innovations Design and Engineering Award. [For a review Geonaute 360 by The Verge, please click here and by SlashGear, please click here.]

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  • iBi (Tamaggo Inc.) – shaped like an egg for the palm of your hand, the iBi shoots 360º x 200º with a single click via a 14MP sensor. Pre-orders for iBi are available within the Tamaggo Online Store for $499 (US and Canada) with first deliveries in early 2014. For examples of 360º images shot with the iBi, please click here.
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  • 360Fly – (EyeSee360 + exclusive distribution arrangement with VOXX Electronics) – slightly smaller than a base ball and weighing just 4.2 ounces,  360Fly was introduced at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show. The 360Fly sensor is 12.4MP using custom glass lens with a field of view (FoV) of 360º x 240º with an f/2.5 aperture. The 360Fly connectivity includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a base station with USB 2.0.

360Fly will launch 3Q14 at $399 in the 360Fly Online Store (and also local/regional retailers) for the 16 GB configuration. (Also available: 32 and 64 GB) The 360Fly is mountable on a variety of different sports equipment from helmets to surfboards to a tiny tripod for the center of a table (or hotel bed). [360Fly Blog FAQs]

For a review by TechCrunch, please click here and for a USA Today review, please click here. To convert video to a 360º photo sphere appears to require PhotoWarp software from EyeSee360. [2 April 2014 – 360Fly announces private equity funding: press release]

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  • Ricoh Theta (Ricoh Company, Ltd.) – slightly bigger than an Apple TV remote, this 1-click two ultra small, proprietary lens camera shoots 360º photo spheres. Images can be shared wirelessly via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and is powered by an internal lithium ion battery chargeable via USB cable. “Ricoh Theta will automatically adjust the image orientation so that you don’t have to worry about how you’re holding the camera. You may simply take pictures at the precise moment you choose,” says the Ricoh Theta website. The Ricoh Theta is $399.95 plus shipping– available now –  in the Ricoh Imagining Online Store. For examples of 360º photo spheres shot with the Ricoh Theta, please click here (and scroll down).

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  • Galileo (Motrr, LLC) – slightly larger than a hockey puck, when Galileo motion control for iPhone and iPod Touch is paired with the free Sphere app, the app records an 18 MP, HDR 360º photo sphere. [Among Galileo's other uses are pan and tilt time-lapse photography and real-time monitoring.] Galileo Bluetooth is $149.95 and is available now in the Motrr Online Store. For examples of 360º photo spheres recorded with Galileo paired with the Sphere app, please click here. [For a review of Panono by Digital Photography Review, please click here.]

We Get Around offers bundles that includes a Ricoh Theta or Bublcam 1-click cameraIf you prefer, we can substitute Panono or 360cam.

For hosting, We Get Around uses the Sphere platform – the YouTube of 360º photo spheres.

While hotels in particular – and the travel, tourism and hospitality space in general – are a perfect fit for DIY 360º photo sphere photography, tech savvy residential and commercial Realtors, educators and meeting and event planners will find this next generation in virtual tour camera photography technology beneficial to help their clients make more confident decisions.

Other potential 360º camera/software solutions may include:

Video

Below are videos about each of the 360º photography gear solutions described above. The videos are from the respective manufactures.

Additional Resources

PostScript (7 February 2014)

Squito throwable ball camera. Pricing and availability have not been announced

Squito (Serveball, a division of S. H. Pierce & Co.) – about the size of a tennis ball, is a patented throwable ball camera “with position and orientation sensors determining the relationship between a spiraling or spinning aperture and a subject of image capture,” according to a Serveball media release. This patented technology enables the Squito to stitch data arriving from multiple image sensors into stabilized, 360º spherical panoramic images and video,” according to Squito Inventor Steve Hollinger. “Images and video are transmitted wirelessly to the user’s phone, tablet or desktop.”

Squito – and related technology – have been in development since 2008 and publicly displayed (“smart spheres for reconnaissance and recreation”) in September 2009. The company has a working prototype.  “Since Squito is not yet in production, we have not announced pricing, availability or published a specification,” says Hollinger.

If you would like to shoot your own 360º virtual tour photo spheres, We Get Around offers three bundles:

These We Get Around bundles includes everything you need to create great 360º virtual tour photo spheres, including:

  • We Get Around handling the post production such as replacing the tripod with your logo and adding clickable directional arrows within your virtual tour (e.g. go room to room; from inside to outside; from location to location);
  • hosting of your 360ºs that includes gyro control on mobile devices and
  • providing you with embed code for your website.

Below are additional details about the Bublcam Take 100 for 12 Months Bundle

Bublcam Take 100 for 12 Months Bundle
4,950.00

Bublcam Take 100 for 12 Months Bundle includes:

(Ships August 2014)

This bundle includes everything you need to create great 360º virtual tour photo spheres, including: We Get Around handling the post production such as replacing the tripod with your logo and adding clickable directional arrows within your virtual tour (e.g. go room to room; from inside to outside; from location to location); hosting of your 360ºs that includes gyro control on mobile devices and providing you with embed code for your website.

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Video: Panono 1-click 360º photo sphere camera

Video: Bublcam 1-click 360º photo sphere camera.

Video: Geonaute 360º hands-on by Chris Burns for SlashGear at CES 2014

Video: Ricoh Theta 1-click 360º photo sphere camera.

Interactive Video: iBi 1-click 360º camera

Interactive Video: iBi 1-click 360º camera

Video: Motrr Galileo iPhone robot paired with the Sphere app to record 360º photo spheres.

Video: Squito Throwable 360º Panoramic Camera

Video: 360cam by GIROPTIC

Dan Smigrod

Founder, CEO & Chief Photographer, 3527 Knollhaven Drive, NE, Atlanta, GA 30319-1908, USA

http://about.me/smigrod