DIVE INTO YOUR PICTURES – Take Virtual Reality Photographs With Your Smartphone
You can think of Optonaut as an Instagram for Virtual Reality.
Optonaut is an app that lets you easily capture and share places in 3D using your smartphone. Your friends can experience these places as if they were there themselves. All you need are Virtual Reality glasses like Google Cardboard (~20$). And the best part: for capturing, there is no additional device needed at all.
Why did we create Optonaut?
Imagine you just came back from an amazing holiday trip. Sun-tanned and with a smile on your face. While you unpack your suitcase you think about all those unique places you’ve seen. You are full of enthusiasm and can’t wait to share pictures of these places with your loved ones. Your pictures look nice but something is missing. It’s difficult for others to perceive depth and context of the scene with regular 2D photographs.
Virtual Reality photographs can be the solution to this problem. They generate a sense of depth by making use of 3D techniques and enable you to look around. But while this technology is getting more and more popular, there is still no easy way to create VR photographs on your own.
That’s exactly why we’ve created Optonaut!
How it works
To take a Virtual Reality photograph – or an Optograph, as we call it – you only need the Optonaut app. Slowly turn around and take a full panorama shot. Optonaut will do the rest for you.
While you’re recording a scene, our servers do the magic of creating a 3D image. It took us quite a while to figure out this step.
After you have fully captured the scene, you can share the Optograph with your friends and family. The Optograph can be viewed with any Virtual Reality glasses like Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR or Durovis Dive. You simply need to put your phone into one of those and you’re good to go.
Prototypes of all major components are finished by now. We’ve developed a first version of the Optonaut app which includes the recording and viewing process as well as basic community features.
Our 3D image processing algorithm already generates amazing results but still has some issues with more complex scenes and exposure balance. Additionally, we’ve created a web-based viewer component which works on many platforms including Chrome, Firefox and Safari on Android and iOS. This allows people to view your Optographs without having to install the app.
Who we are
It all began in 2014, when this idea won the largest European Hackathon. After further working on and experimenting with the idea, two members of the Hackathon team wanted to take it to the next level and kickstart Optonaut.
Our vision is to make virtual reality accessible for everyone.
Both of us, Emanuel and Johannes, are computer scientists and have worked on numerous projects in the past. As passionate photographers we deeply care about capturing places. With Optonaut, we finally found an idea for which we can use our experience to turn it into a real-world product.
While the development of the technical bits is almost finished, we still need financial support to keep our servers running for at least the first year. If funding is successful, we will be able to completely redesign and develop Optonaut for Android and iOS. The app will be for free of course.
In the past six months, we evaluated our concept and worked on many prototypes. We learned a lot through this phase and ended up with a first working version of Optonaut. What’s left to do is making it ready for everyday use. That means working on a simple and beautiful app which runs on all major devices and polishing some parts of the 3D processing technology.
We aim to launch a beta version of Optonaut in July and release the final app two months later.
While our recording process works fast and reliably in most situations, some scenes require more precision. To enable you to take high-quality Optographs of more complex scenes, we teamed up with Kúla and added support for their awesome 3D-Lens Kúla-Bebe to Optonaut.
Google Cardboard was designed to be a DIY prototype enabling everyone to experiment with Virtual Reality. While it provides an impressive experience for people diving into Virtual Reality for the first time, it still just touches the surface of what is possible. To maximize the immersive effect of viewing Optographs, we also teamed up with Durovis who developed the famous Durovis Dive.
Henry Bartholomay, Julian Bauer, Alice Bentinck, David Bruchmann, Sean David, Dominic Flatter, Daniela Fuchs, Katharina Fuchs, Phoebe Hugh, Emil Kabisch, Íris Ólafsdóttir, Marc Mengler, Bich Huyen Nguyen, Saubhik Sarkar, Thomas Schlegelmilch, Sascha Schwellenbach, Sudhanshu Shekhar, Jakob Siegmund, Chris Spatschek, Tim Suchanek, Arne Voigtländer, Kerstin Weber-Sanguigno, Tobias Weigel, Jonas Wittbrodt
A special thank you goes to our great Hackathon team members Lisa Masserova and Matthias Standfest.
Risks and challenges
The topic of VR is challenging. Creating VR images without additional hardware is even more complicated. While our prototype works sufficiently for experiencing a scene in 3D, there is still potential for optimization regarding exposure balance, seaming of edges and removal of stitching artifacts in a 3D environment.
Depth Perception for Corner Cases
The creation of 3D content includes a lot of complicated math which is pretty tricky. It might happen that depth perception for views straight up or down is not perfect on certain devices. Of course, we’re working hard on this.
Delivery of Hardware Rewards
As with every piece of hardware, the delivery depends on one or multiple production partners. We planned everything thoroughly but in the unlikely event that something goes wrong, you’ll hear from us.