Google pilots new 360-degree camera from Edinburgh firm

NCTech, a developer of reality imaging systems, has unveiled a 360-degree camera designed to be mounted on any vehicle in order to capture and generate virtual street-level imagery. Google is set to trial the new camera, details of which were presented today at a company event in Tokyo, for Street View in three countries.

With a 360 x 300 degree field of view, the camera captures data at five frames per second to produce 60 megapixel spherical images. The Street View auto ready camera, which will be available towards the end of the year, is designed to collect data from any moving vehicle for Google’s Street View platform and other platforms.

“We are keen to explore technologies that can help increase the volume and frequency of data uploaded to Street View,” said Charles Armstrong, Street View product manager at Google. “NCTech is a truly pioneering company – they continue to set the bar in spatial reconstruction by blending futuristic tech with accessible design and price points, and we look forward to seeing the results of our pilot with their new camera.”

Cameron Ure, chief executive of NCTech, said: “We’re delighted that Google will pilot our new camera in support of Street View. With this new camera, we aim to enable a further wave of expansion in digitising the planet with the goal of increasing the 10 million miles per year currently available online, to one billion miles per year.”

The new camera uses Intel technology and will be the first to adopt NCTech’s ‘Intelligent Capture System’, a cloud-based system that talks to each camera, ensuring that the data collected is unique and manages disk space on the camera. “With this product, we’re making use of the very latest Intel Apollo Lake processor technology.” said Neil Tocher, NCTech’s chief technology officer. “Intel have worked very closely with us to ensure the product realises all the potential benefits provided by this new chipset for ultrafast street-level virtualisation.”

Edinburgh-based NCTech, which is funded by Archangel Investors and the Scottish Co-Investment Fund, designs and manufactures 360 degree reality imaging systems that automate and streamline the workflow of image documentation and can be used “repeatedly, accurately, consistently by anyone anywhere”.

The company also announced a second new Street View compatible product, the VRC (Virtual Reality Camera). The new low-cost consumer camera will provide 3D virtualisation of interior places, capturing 360-degree images and depth, allowing viewers to explore in full immersive virtual reality. “The VRC is the first affordable consumer Virtual Reality Camera. It will help democratise virtual reality by making the capture of user generated 3D VR content easy and abundant,” said Tocher. “The VRC’s Street View API compatibility now enables anyone to be able to share their virtualized places on Street View.”

“NCTech is automating the process of building out the digital world from the edge to cloud – with Intel Atom E3900 Series inside the cameras and Intel Xeon powering the Google Cloud,” said Jonathan Ballon, the general manager of the Internet of Things Group at Intel.  “We’ve seen lots of real world places being virtualised, but these guys are pioneering virtualising the entire world with their cutting edge cameras iSTAR Pulsar and Iris VR and their ColourCloud service.”