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Digital Picture Technology Connects Sports Teams with Fans

NASA-developed digital photo technology lets baseball fans enjoy highly detailed panoramic pictures.

NASA’s twin Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, remain one of the Agency’s greatest achievements in exploration. On Earth, these robots are best known for their stunning pictures of the Martian landscape. Although the rovers each had a mere 1-megapixel camera, the pictures they have become famous for measure up to 96 megapixels in size. This was made possible by a NASA-built automated tripod that, with the help of photo processing software, seamlessly integrates a series of smaller shots into one large image.

altThrough multiple commercial partnerships, NASA and Carnegie Mellon University first brought the supersized digital picture technology to the market as the GigaPan robotic platform. Soon after it had spun off into consumer applications, the technology’s potential caught the eye of Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) LP, based in New York City. MLBAM runs the official Web site for Major League Baseball (MLB) and coordinates the interactive media efforts of the league and its 30 teams. In 2009, MLBAM was already taking large-scale, flat images of stadiums at game time. “These photos were interesting,” said Andrew Patterson, director of New Media at MLBAM, “but we were really looking for a way to make them more personal and interactive.”

The opportunity came when MLBAM was approached by David Bergman, a professional photographer experienced with the GigaPan system. Following consultation with Bergman, MLBAM worked with GigaPan engineers to customize the system for capturing large-scale, in-game shots — photos that the MLB hoped would become a new platform for engaging and energizing its fan base. The resulting technology is now licensed to MLBAM, which offers its benefits to individual teams and supports its use in stadiums nationwide — with Bergman taking many of the photos.

Photos taken during games are displayed as navigable images on MLB.com’s TagOramic Web site. While nearly the entire stadium can be viewed at a glance, thanks to the image’s high resolution, users can zoom in to see individuals in the crowd with remarkable detail.

Nicole Blaszczyk, marketing coordinator for the Detroit Tigers, said the technology came at a good time for her organization. “We have had a photo booth in the park; however, because it’s been there for so long, it wasn’t piquing fan interest as much.” Rather than enticing fans into an individual shot, the Gigapan camera captures nearly everyone in its series of candid photos, typically spanning a period of time less than 20 minutes. Once the images are stitched together, users can explore almost the entire stadium, zooming in to high levels of detail.

TagOramic GigaPan photos have proven so popular that more teams are taking them — and more often. Patterson says MLBAM bears the licensing costs on behalf of every team in the league. “The technology is available for anyone who wants it,” he said, “and many teams are taking advantage of it.”

Visit http://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2012/cg_4.html for more information.