We have been shooting 360 spherical panoramas for about 4 years now. Until today I have done them with a 700 class electric RC helicopter, a DSLR with 10.5mm fisheye lens and a custom designed camera mount ( our VR360 mount). The DSLR would pan and shoot a series of 6 images for a full 360.
The method mentioned above weighed about 13lb all up ready to fly. A bit heavy for certain missions where safety is of major concern. A 13lb rc helicopter can do tremendous damage to persons and property upon impact.
Also the DLSR method took about 3-4 seconds to capture. An rc helicopter can move quite a but in 4 seconds, even at the hands of a very good pilot. A movement of even 3 feet could create some bad parallax errors when it came time to stitch the images.
The need for a lightweight aerial panorama system which could capture all the images in less than one second was obvious but I put the idea off until a few weeks ago.
I had a few GoPro HD cameras laying around and had been impressed with their still photo quality considering the small size of the camera. I wondered if it would be possible to mount multiple GoPro cameras in a radial array to capture all the images simultaneously.
I decided on 5 cameras in an upside down pentagon pyramid array. This would provide the proper overlap between images. I modified the cameras to be triggered within about 1 second of each other and wired power from the copter to each one to eliminate the need for a battery in each camera. I created a power/trigger PCB distribution board with a voltage regulator to bring the copter 14.6v down to 5v. A capacitor was also added to the board to help filter voltage fluctuations.
Having flown several test flights today I can say it certainly works and works WELL!
Here’s a shot of the rig in flight. All up weight, 4.1lb (1.9kg)