Near Infinite Detail

Working for an Internet TV start-up, I find it ironic that I typically can't find time to watch television. By the weekend, when I finally carve some hours to recharge, I attempt to catch up on some TiVo'd programs. Being a geek at heart I enjoy a program on Science Discovery called "Discoveries this Week" - a nice recap of interesting science and technology stories. The latest episode had a short segment on the Gigapxl Project. I am completely enthralled with their work! They have put together a portable camera that is able to capture detail that is equivalent to 4000 mega-pixels. The image is actually captured on film and then they scan segments of the source into a four billion pixel (uncompressed, 16-bit) 24 gigabyte data file. It is hard to imagine the level of detail available from a 4GP camera. From the project's FAQ:

One way of visualizing the size of a four gigapixel image is to consider a photograph of a regulation football pitch (soccer in USA) which is 90m x 45m. A four gigapixel top-down photograph of the entire field at 1mm per pixel would cover an area of 89.4m x 44.7m, which is 99.38% of the indicated size. This mm-per-pixel scale represents perhaps as many as 100 pixels per blade of grass across an entire pitch captured in a single exposure.

Another more immediate representation is to think about the size of such an image in relation to your computer monitor.

If you are reading this text on a 1280x1024 computer monitor, a one-gigapixel image would be 35 of your screens wide and 22 screens tall. A four-gigapixel image is twice as wide and twice as high—that is, 70 screens wide and 44 screens tall. When printed at the highest resolution discernable by the human eye, these images range from 5×10 feet up to 10×20 feet in size.

If you are still having a hard time understanding what detail this camera can capture head over to the illustrative image gallery. For each sample they show increased levels of zoom, including images that detail just .05% of the original. A primary focus for this project is to develop a platform where cultural and archaeological sites can be captured before they deteriorate. As an example you can take a look at the image they captured of Newspaper Rock. People who are paranoid about their privacy might be interested in taking a look at the image captured at Balboa Park in San Diego. With a camera like this you may never realize you are being filmed! What really struck me was contemplating what might be possible in the future. Ten, twenty, fifty years from now - what will be available to us all? What does it mean to society and our culture when you can capture such ultra high resolution images? ... and how about when we can capture 30 FPS at multi-gigapixel resolution? There is an interesting relationship to map between CPU performance, storage and image capture resolution over the next few decades. What is the timeline for the limit function that models capturing near infinite detail for each shutter opening? Amazing!