This Low-Cost Camera Could Help Save Lives

For firefighters and search-and-rescue workers, one of the risks of the job is going into a building or a room without knowing what lies on the other side. In some cases, as when workers are searching through the rubble left after an earthquake, there may not be any easy way to get inside. While expensive technology exists—like robots that can be sent to search—the cost tends to make it inaccessible, and it also requires specialized training to operate. One new design may help solve the problem.

Bounce Imaging has created a bouncing, ball-shaped camera that's designed to get into dangerous places so people don't have to. The ball is filled with tiny cameras on all sides. A special casing protects the electronics inside, and allows the ball to bounce. Once it's tossed into a building, the device will take photos every second or half-second. With six pictures, the camera can put together a 360-view of a room. The images are sent wirelessly back to an Android smartphone or tablet.

The designers are working on adding new features to the device that will be different based on application. A firefighter's device may eventually include sensors that measure smoke, oxygen, and temperature. Devices for search-and-rescue teams will also help create maps of collapsed buildings.

The device is a prototype, but the designers will begin testing it with SWAT teams and police in January.

First image (cc) flickr user AMagill; second image via Bounce Imaging.