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Sweeping Panoramas, Courtesy of a Robot
source: The New York Times

GigaPan robotic device.
source: Carnegie Mellon University/ New York Times

"That means that when you zoom in to look at the images, you are viewing them just as you would if you were looking through a pair of binoculars" with powerful magnification, he said. "You can take panoramas from video, but you won't have a still image that you can stop and look at in this high detail."

One of Dr. Palmer's panoramas -- of Hanauma Bay on the coast of Oahu in Hawaii -- has 1,750 total frames, 25 rows by 70 columns. ( The exposures and number of frames were calculated automatically by the computer inside the GigaPan.

It took about an hour and a half for the robot to shoot the scene in a fairly silent process, with only "a low hum, and the steady click of the camera," he said.

Dr. Palmer was busy, too, during the shoot. The robotic device attracted a lot of attention from bystanders as it captured the scene, and he ended up protecting it from them, lest they overturned it.

Dr. Palmer plans to use the GigaPan both for artistic images and for documenting Hawaii's natural ecosystems. "It's another way to be creative," he said. "It's therapy."