Facebook Open-Sources Designs for Surround 360 Camera

Facebook just put the blueprint and software for its 17-lens Surround 360 stereoscopic 3D camera on GitHub, fulfilling a promise the company made earlier to make the camera design, assembly instructions, control software and stitching software available for free. Facebook’s move is seen as an effort to enable more people to create 360-degree immersive videos. By open-sourcing the camera’s construction and operation, developers will be able to create products and speed up the development of the marketplace.

Wired, which reports that building a Surround 360 with off-the-shelf parts costs about $30,000, notes that Facebook “isn’t ready to stream live spherical video from the 1.6 billion people who use its social network.” But as Facebook’s Brian Cabral (who helped build the camera) says, “Over time, this will evolve even higher. I don’t think it’s a ‘whether.’ It’s a ‘when’.”

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The Surround 360 camera, whose 3D images can be viewed with Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear, “will mostly produce 2D monoscopic video that you can view on a laptop, desktop, or phone” in the beginning. But Cabral believes it won’t be long before live streaming comes into play.

Recode notes that Facebook has a vested interest in jumpstarting VR camera technology: “Facebook needs more video content, especially video content that looks cool in virtual reality.” Cabral reports that, in addition to the 14 lenses “arranged in a ring around the device,” the camera features three fish-eye lenses, on top and bottom, and is built “so that anyone can quickly and easily and reliably capture video out in the field.”

The stitching software, which can run on a powerful Mac, is constructed to upload videos to Facebook, but any developer could tweak it to upload to other services. The software also runs on Linux (opening up the possibility of stitching across a group of servers) but not Microsoft Windows, although adding it would not be complicated. Of course, live streaming high-resolution 360-degree video across the Internet still isn’t possible. But Facebook and many others are working on it.