Visual Time Machine Explores Space and Time

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You've might have heard of the GigaPan robotic devices that capture high-res images to create digital mosaics composed of hundreds or thousands of pictures. But how about a GigaPan Time Machine?

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute have created a system that lets viewers explore high-resolution, gigapixel-scale videos and images by zooming in and out of the image sequences, while simultaneously moving back and forth through time.

"With GigaPan Time Machine, you can simultaneously explore space and time at extremely high resolutions," associate professor of robotics and head of the Create Lab, Illah Nourbakhsh said in a press release. "Science has always been about narrowing your point of view — selecting a particular experiment or observation that you think might provide insight. But this system enables what we call exhaustive science, capturing huge amounts of data that can then be explored in amazing ways."

The new system is an extension of the GigaPan technology, developed by Create Lab and NASA. To bring GigaPan into the time dimension, image mosaics are captured repeatedly at timed, set intervals. Think time lapse. On this one contains frames composed of hundreds of millions, or even billions of pixels.

Researchers have used the system to capture videos of carnival midways being built, flowers growing and caterpillars eating leaves. As well, a computer simulation shows how the early universe evolved across 600 million light-years.

Guidelines on how to capture time-lapse images using GigaPan cameras are included on the site created for hosting the new imagery's large data files. And to view, you need Safari 5.0 or higher or Chrome 7.0 or higher.

Photo: John Harper/Corbis