eye spy Seeing the Bigger Picture

The Berlin start-up Panono, which is backed by BMW and Lufthansa, has developed a throwable ball-shaped camera that can take 360-degree panorama photos.
Jonas Pfeil has the world at his fingertips.

Thousands of visitors were gawking at the future of the automotive world at the BMW showroom in Munich on Tuesday. But perhaps they should have been looking into the sky, too.

Because on this hot August day, an inconspicuous young man in a black T-shirt was tossing a small plastic ball high into the hall. And Jonas Pfeil thinks his green and black sphere containing 36 cameras could revolutionize photography as we know it.

“It’s the first throwable panorama camera,” said Mr. Pfeil, who developed the gadget while studying at Berlin’s Technical University.

The device can take 360-degree photographs, offering a novel perspective.

Just a few seconds after tossing the ball, Mr. Pfeil pulled his iPhone from his pocket to show the image made by the three-megapixel cameras. He said the combined 108-megapixel picture was a much higher resolution than competing devices – such as Bublcam from Canada.

Video: The Panono Camera.

He hade hoped to bring the device to stores last year, but it turned out to be more complicated than planned with “difficult problems” to solve.

But his start-up now plans to offer the first 1,000 Panono cameras starting in September for €1,499, or $1,499. Though these balls are not meant to be tossed into the air, Mr. Pfeil said they would still be of interest to luxury hotels and real estate brokers looking for special images.

A throwable consumer version is in the works, but the young inventor refused to commit to a date. A ball cam able to withstand a fall of four meters and slated to cost €599 is currently being tested.

The concept behind the camera ball is simple: The device is thrown high into the air or lowered by a cable from a bridge. It then takes spherical 360-degree panorama photos.

Mr. Pfeil was even allowed to show off the camera ball to Queen Elizabeth during the British monarch’s recent visit to Berlin.

The images are then put together by Panono’s software and beamed to a smartphone or another device. Users can then “wander” through an image with a tablet or special computer goggles. The pictures are taken with a timer or via a smartphone app. An image can also be snapped at the pinnacle of each toss or when the ball is attached to a hand-held selfie stick that is automatically removed from the picture by the cam’s software.

Panono is one of Germany’s best-known start-ups and Mr. Pfeil was even allowed to show off the camera ball to the Queen Elizabeth during the British monarch’s recent visit to Berlin.

The firm used crowdfunding to collect €1.6 million last fall via the German platform Companisto, and $1.25 million the year before on U.S. site Indiegogo.

Big corporate brands including airline Lufthansa, outdoor goods maker Mammut and BMW have also got behind Panono. All hope to use the ball cam to create spectacular marketing images.


Joachim Hofer is Handelsblatt’s Munich corresponent. To contact him: [email protected]