NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center has developed a technology that combines a panoramic refracting optic (PRO) lens with a unique detection system to acquire a true 360-degree field of view. Although current imaging systems can acquire panoramic images, they must use up to five cameras to obtain the full field of view. MSFC's technology obtains its panoramic images from one vantage point.
This technology emerged from NASA's advanced optics research for space applications. Unlike fisheye lenses, which use refraction to produce a 190-degree image field, MSFC's panoramic reflecting optic lens uses both refraction and internal reflection to provide a unique annular (i.e., radial) 360-degree image field of view.
The PRO lens can be shaped to view a small or large angular range of the entire region that surrounds the optical axis of the lens. The lens production process involves simple lathing or injection molding of a glass or acrylic plastic. The simple manufacturing process enables low-cost production of MSFC's optical system.
The ability of the system to acquire the 360-degree imaging information from a single vantage point is an important feature for many applications. For example, a PRO-equipped camera mounted on top of a vehicle could simultaneously view the entire surrounding area, providing optical information without blind spots. This image information could be archived so that dynamic incidents could be accurately reconstructed. In security systems, a single inexpensive camera could monitor, detect, and record movement around a large physical area, such as a parking lot or building grounds.