Prof's GigaPan Research Makes Headlines

November 04, 2010 - In the News

Integrative biology professor Alex Smith will be featured in an article in Science magazine that hits newstands Friday. The story looks at scientists who are using GigaPan, new technology that involves using a robotic camera and special software to create panoramic images with a standard digital camera. It was developed by Carnegie Mellon University researchers while they were working with NASA on the Mars Rover project.

Smith is among a group of scientists beta-testing the GigaPan, and the article highlights his GigaPan and Dairy Bush project. Started in August 2009, it involves him taking pictures with a robot-controlled camera every week from the same spot in the patch of forest on the west side of the U of G campus.

Existing natural environments within urban centres, such as forests or woodlots, are exposed to increasing pressures of degradation, fragmentation, biological invasion and destruction, Smith says. “One key to our capacity to understand these changes will be ongoing monitoring through time,” he says, adding that there is evidence of such changes in his GigaPan series. There are also many examples of seasonal changes in both native and invasive plants and animals, and examples of environmental damage.

The images — more than 700 each week — are stitched together to form a single panoramic shot and uploaded to the GigaPan website. On this site, the gigapixel-sized panoramas are publicly available for commenting, exploration and sharing. GigaPans can also be integrated into Google Earth or viewed in an iPad app.

Each panorama is filled with a significant amount of information. Special software allows any user to zoom in, move around and explore each photo, including highlighting sections and then annotating or commenting on it.

Science also published one of Smith’s weekly panoramas taken Sept. 22 — the 56th weekly shot he's taken (he shot week 62 yesterday).

Smith, one of seven department faculty members studying aspects of biodiversity and DNA barcoding at the Guelph-based Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, has integrated the GigaPan into his collections, barcoding and ecological work. The Dairy Bush GigaPans have also been used in several ecology classes at U of G to complement field trips to the Dairy Bush. It’s also a valuable outreach and education tool for science, he says.

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