Carnegie Mellon University

GigaPan for Science

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Seeing the Forest for the Trees

GigaPan for Science

Looking at a landscape shot of Tanzania can be deceiving. But GigaPan is helping researchers see the forest for the trees.

Take researcher and film-maker Bill Wallauer's snapshot of a chimpanzee habitat at a conservation project managed by the Jane Goodall Institute. It's merely a small piece of a bigger picture showing deforestation that's having an enormous impact on the chimpanzees that once lived there.

"During presentations, I show a couple shots of beautiful forest, then show the right edge of the tobacco field shot, zoomed in so all that the audience can see is forest," Wallauer explained. "Then I gradually zoom out to reveal freshly chopped trees, stumps, and finally the whole barren field.  The shock value and surprise of what deforestation looks like up close is incredibly effective. Audience members often ask what they can do to help, which gives me the opportunity to encourage people to get involved in conservation organizations like the Jane Goodall Institute."

Wallauer added, "Most people have no idea that we are at serious risk of losing our closest living relatives forever. At the rate forests and their occupants are disappearing, chimpanzees could become extinct within the next 20 to 30 years. That is simply unacceptable."

A grant from The Fine Foundation enables Wallauer and other experts to use GigaPan as a pioneering new scientific tool.

"Scientists now can create highly detailed images of anything from a large archaeological dig to a microscopic image of a fly," said Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon and director of the Robotics Institute's CREATE Lab. "Computers allow us to interactively study these images, zooming in on unexpected details or zooming out to understand the context of an artifact. We are just beginning to appreciate how scientists can best use gigapixel imagery and this conference will help all of us share our ideas and techniques."

Participants in the program have the freedom to discover new and useful ways to use GigaPan technology that those outside their field might never consider.

Developed in partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center, GigaPan is a robotic mount for common digital cameras, enabling the user to take billion-pixel panoramic images in a matter of minutes. These images are then uploaded and shared on the GigaPan website, where users around the globe can explore them, zooming in to incredible detail, as well as taking and annotating 'snapshots' within the panorama, focusing  attention on objects and details of particular note.

The first Fine International Conference on Gigapixel Imaging for Science will be hosted at Carnegie Mellon University on Nov. 11-13, 2010.

Leaders from Google Inc., NASA and National Geographic will be among the speakers exploring the scientific uses of panoramic imagery. Keynote speakers Alan Eustace, Google senior vice president for engineering; Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center, and Mark Bauman, executive vice president of National Geographic Television, will discuss how this new imagery can be leveraged to make scientific discoveries by researchers and science educators.

For the past three years, the Fine Foundation has sponsored a series of workshops that have trained more than 100 scientists from around the world on GigaPan. Geologists, primatologists, paleontologists, ecologists and scientists from many other disciplines have participated in these workshops and have become pioneers and innovators in the use of gigapixel imagery.

Many will be returning to Carnegie Mellon to share their experiences at November's conference.

In addition to the keynote addresses, invited papers and poster sessions, the conference will feature a juried art show featuring large-scale prints of gigapixel panoramas. A Fine Outreach for Science workshop, training a new group of science fellows, will precede the conference.

For information on the conference or to register, visit the conference website. Registration is now open.

Photo of Bill Wallauer taken by his wife, Kristin Mosher

Related Links: GigaPan.org  |  Jane Goodall Institute