Getting a 360º perspective with Triggertrap Mobile and AerialSphere


Aerial imagery on a grand scale isn't the most common form of photography, but it is one of the most awesome kinds of photography we've ever seen made with Triggertrap.

A photographer got in touch with us recently to ask a question about how the GPS works in Triggertrap Mobile's DistanceLapse mode. We were curious about the nature of his request, so dug a little deeper. And boy are we glad we did! Meet DJ, an Arizona-based aerial photographer who creates 360º immersive aerial imagery with his company Aerial Sphere, and a little help from Triggertrap Mobile's DistanceLapse mode. Too awesome a story not to hear, right?

Hi there DJ! What should we know about you?

My name is DJ Vegh. I'm an entrepreneur. Over the past eight years I have been developing camera mounting systems for small, unmanned aerial vehicles (what most people today incorrectly call drones) with a startup called PhotoShip One, LLC that I founded and began operating in 2007. I had been dabbling with aerial 360º spheres beginning in 2007 and within a year had designed and put into manufacturing a camera mount for 'drones' which allowed for capture of 360º spherical imagery.

I have sold hundreds of the camera mounts since then and it was early 2014 when I had an idea for another startup that focused on specific technology development with 360° aerial sphere imagery. In March 2014 I got together with a couple of partners and we founded Aerial Sphere, LLC.

How did you get started in aerial photography?

I have always been surrounded by aviation. My father became a pilot when he was just 16 years old back in 1966.  By the time I was born in 1974 he was instructing new pilots to learn to fly. He was unable to afford a babysitter much of the time when I was young so he would take me to work with him and strap me into the back seat while he would instruct his students.  My first flight I had when I was less than two weeks old and I flew constantly with him. I got my pilot's certificate in 2003. As you can see, my life has been immersed in aviation. That explains the 'aerial' portion of aerial photography.

And the photography part?

The photography side comes in a bit differently. It started out more as aerial videography than aerial photography.  In 2005 I decided it would be interesting to install a video camera onto a model RC helicopter and see if it would be possible to capture low level aerial video.  The project was a success.  The video turned out surprisingly well.  It was at this time that I noticed there were no other significant manufacturers making products to allow cameras to be mounted to RC model helicopters. I then decided to startup PhotoShip One as I mentioned previously.  My first product was a camera gimbal to mount a video camera, but shortly after I had customers requesting that I design a 360º capable camera mount to capture aerial spheres.  I did and the success of the product made me quite fond of 360º aerial sphere images. Years later, enter AerialSphere.

Awesome! So what is the story of AerialSphere?

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In 2007 Google had just released their experimental project, Google Street View. I was fascinated at their claim to 'map the world' with Google Street View in the coming years. Having been experimenting with aerial spheres around the same time I thought how interesting it would be if there were an aerial version of Google Street View in which there would be an aerial sphere image over every major city in the US (and maybe the world!).  I quickly determined that the effort and resources required to acquire imagery and process the imagery put the project well beyond what my financial resources at the time could allow.

I was introduced to Jim Todd by a helicopter pilot who flew for him. The pilot suggested he and I meet as it seemed we shared much in common and may be able to collaborate on something. I met Jim in January 2014 and it was a few weeks later that Jim and I were chatting and I had mentioned how I had this hair-brained whacky idea back in 2007 to shoot aerial spheres over cities on one mile grids. I chuckled a bit at how stupid I must have been to think that something like that could be pulled off. Jim thought otherwise. He said 'let's do it!'

Within a few days Jim had made some calls and to my delight he explained there was much interest in our project by individuals who would be willing to put up capital for a seed round.  It took a few more months to pull the plan together and form AerialSphere, but in late summer of 2014 we were funded and running! We plan to start with imaging all of Phoenix and then a large portion of the San Francisco area as our test areas.  At the time I write this we have finished development of our capture rig and post production process. We've also developed something VERY cool... a process and software to georectify the spheres.  This means we can know the latitude, longitude, and altitude of each pixel in our aerial spheres. This allows for some quite fascinating possibilities with tying into GIS and location-based services information.

That's brilliant! What is it that AerialSphere is offering to interested parties?

Aerial Sphere will offer georectified (for the GIS beginners, that means the digital alignment of a satellite or aerial image with a map of the same area) immersive aerial imagery over major metro areas on 1 mile (and in the future 1/2 mile) grids.

What sort of people or companies are interested in working with you?

Currently, we are still in development of our technology so we do not yet have a substantial customer base. We do photograph aerial spheres upon request though. To date we have photographed over 100 spheres in the Phoenix area alone for various real estate and land development companies. We have some ideas on who might be interested in our technology when we reach a more finalised product, but I can't say much about that just yet...

What is an aerial sphere?

An aerial sphere is an equirectangular projection (also called a rectangular projection or plane chart, in which the horizontal coordinate is the longitude and the vertical coordinate is the latitude). The equirectangular image is then processed in a way that it can be viewed by a web browser using HTML5/Javascript to display the image in an interactive manner.

Can you tell us how you create the aerial spheres?

Sorry, but this is a topic where I can not divulge much information! The most I can say is that we have developed our own camera rig for capturing and software for georectifying the sphere. Once our patents publish we can divulge more!

What altitude do you normally need to work at?

Typically our spheres are acquired between 1,000-2,000 feet above ground.

How do you use Triggertrap to help you create the aerial spheres?

Triggertrap is a brilliant device for our purposes. We looked into and even developed a geospatial increment camera triggering device based loosely on a multirotor 'drone' flight controller.  It functions, but was a bit clunky to setup and operate.  I happened to be browsing apps on my iPhone one night and came upon Triggertrap. When I saw that it had a DistanceLapse mode (a GPS-based timelapse mode) I thought it might just be a great solution to our geospatial camera trigger need. I bought the app and the dongle that night.

Not long after the dongle arrived, I made some modifications to our camera rig to accept the Triggertrap outputs and within a day we had Triggertrap successfully triggering our camera rig. To test how Triggertrap would function in DistanceLapse mode for several hours straight I decided to rig it up to a camera that I suction cup mounted to the windshield of my Volkswagen Passat. I then drove from Phoenix to Las Vegas with Distance Lapse set to every 250 yds. For four hours and 45 minutes Triggertrap triggered the camera without fail. I've even made a timelapse video of the drive from the frames. I then put Triggertrap up in the air on an hour long flight set to trigger every half mile. It works just as well in the air as it does on the ground. After these tests we knew Triggertrap was going to be our solution. Accuracy at the speeds we are flying is around +/- 100 feet. Plenty good enough for our purposes.

What is your favourite project you’ve worked on?

With regards to AerialSphere I'd have to say my favourite project so far has been the one we did capturing aerial spheres over all of the airports in the Phoenix, AZ area.  There are nine airports we captured. You can virtually fly to any of the airports. You can see the project HERE.

A close second place would be a sphere we did over Arizona State University campus in Tempe, AZ.  It's a beautiful shot of the campus and really shows off the ASU campus area. You can see it HERE.

We want more! What will you be working on next?

We have some really fun stuff we're developing next that will allow our spheres to be viewed in VR wearables like Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and others. 2015 is going to be an exciting year for VR//Immersive technology!  We'll announce more at the appropriate time.

Woah, how exciting! Where can we see your work?

We have published many spheres at aerialsphere.com. But be prepared to have much free time available before hitting the link.  It's not hard to spend an hour or two virtually flying over the Phoenix, AZ area viewing our spheres!

Want to try out DistanceLapse mode on your next road trip? Lucky for you, we have a handy guide for doing just that! Don't forget to share your DistanceLapses with us at Primelapse.com. Want to learn more about what Triggertrap Mobile has to offer? Click here.

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