PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Just when you thought cameras had every angle of a football field covered, a project by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University could have you seeing the game in a whole new perspective.

They teamed up with the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo to put in a camera, inside a football.

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The researchers have shown that a camera embedded in the side of a rubber-sheathed plastic foam football can record video while the ball is in flight that could give spectators a unique, ball’s-eye view of the playing field.

“We stick this camera into a little hole in the football,” says researcher Kris Kitani as he held a tiny camera in his hand. “And then, with that, we’d record it, and we’d throw the football. Once you put the camera in there, it’s going to be rotating really quickly as the ball is spinning and flying in the sky.”

Because a football can spin at 600 rpm, the raw video is an unwatchable blur. But the researchers developed a computer algorithm that converts the raw video into a stable, wide-angle view.

Kitani, from Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, and UEC’s Kodai Horita came up with the idea.

CMU has no shortage of laboratories for testing. But in this case, all they had to do was walk down to the football field.

“This is me throwing the ball,” Kitani says, gesturing toward a YouTube video. The screen is split. “You see all the spinning on the left, and on the right side you see a somewhat stabilized video of the person catching the ball.”

In a news release from Carnegie Mellon, Kitani says the BallCam was developed as part of a larger exploration of digital sports.

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The researchers say that when the ball is thrown in a clean spiral, the camera records a succession of frames as the ball rotates. When processing these frames, the algorithm uses the sky to determine which frames were made when the camera was looking up and which were made when it was looking down.

The upward frames are discarded and the remaining, overlapping frames are stitched together with special software to create a large panorama.

Similar stitching software is used by NASA to combine images from Mars rovers into large panoramas and is increasingly found in digital cameras.


Kitani also says that a faster camera sensor or other techniques will be needed to reduce blurring. Multiple cameras might also be added to the football to improve the finished video.

Kitani dreams that someday the NFL may come calling.

Meanwhile, he says, in games played just for fun: “You’d get these crazy shots of people trying to grab the ball and going after it, and maybe pulling each other down. And then, to have those images, I think would be really fun.”

To watch more BallCam footage, click the links below:
BallCam Clip 1
BallCam Clip 2

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Kris Kitani CMU Project Page
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