We’re not making cameras. We’re making an extremely high quality data capture and precision measurement instrument.
As I spoke about in part 1 of this ‘mini series on technology, design and invention, the process is much more complicated than many believe. There can be various iterations along the way, always with the intention of creating the best product with the available technology.
Conclusion from Part 1:
Designing products is a difficult and iterative process, best initiated in their conception by a somewhat unusual user with a somewhat unusual problem, who wants more than anyone else to solve it. It requires a very careful understanding of the state of the technology and how something can be designed.
Version 1 won’t be perfect, but at least it should work better than what’s out there. After that, hopefully the designers and engineers are as close as possible to the users, in order to see and understand what should be improved.
So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way and you have a better handle on how technology, design and inventions work together, let’s answer the question I get so often about our cameras:
What makes them so good?
Each part of our Mosaic 360º mobile mapping cameras were carefully considered and designed to offer our customers the best possible experience and outputs possible. We have been determined to build the right tool for the job – in particular the jobs surrounding the geospatial, mapping, and surveying industries.
Hardware is hard. Cameras are harder.
Mosaic Camera Technologies
Designing a camera is very difficult. They are fantastically complex devices. Building them at scale and being sure that they work is also very difficult. We’ve spent the last couple of years doing these things, and it has been a tremendously long process, but now that we have so many cameras in the wild, I can say that it has been successful. In this article I’d like to walk you through a few points about what we have built, and why it is the best solution on the market right now.
Our Image Sensors
We are using Sony image sensors, which are highly regarded on the market. They are used by many of the world’s best cameras.
The Mosaic 51 has rolling shutter sensors, which are very good in terms of dynamic range and noise. For our mobile mapping and surveying customers who want to perform street-level data collection, the Mosaic 51 has proven to be an exceptional, well-rounded product which checks all of the boxes.
The Mosaic X has global shutter sensors, which offer exceptional performance (at a higher cost) and images that allow a simple workflow for coloring point clouds or building textured mesh 3d models using photogrammetry.
The Mosaic Viking, being our “no holds barred” camera, has large APS-C sized 31 megapixel global shutter sensors, offering a tremendous 22K resolution stitched 360-degree panoramic image, or 186 megapixels of 12-bit uncompressed RAW data at 5FPS (that’s 930MP per second!)
We take optics incredibly seriously. It doesn’t matter how good your image sensor is if you don’t have a lens, focusing the light correctly, across the entire sensor. We also need to be sure that our lenses follow a geometric lens model that we can calibrate and map correctly, according to a mathematical formula, so that these pixels can be remapped later on for various tasks.
While we say we are building a “camera”, it is in fact a precisely calibrated instrument which is the basis of a number of other highly technical operations (image stitching, coloring point clouds, and photogrammetry).
So, our lenses need to be fantastic – every single one of them. And we do inspect and calibrate every single one! Part of one of our deliverables to our customers is a personalized calibration file, particular to their camera so that they are able to work with it later in post processing tasks such as stitching 360 panos and 360 videos.
Our Housing & Frame
Some cameras are meant to be used by regular people, some are meant to be used by filmmakers, and some are meant to be installed in factories. Every type of camera has to be built for a specific type of wear and tear, and it needs to be dependable.
Mobile mapping can be a hot, wet, bumpy and dirty business. These cameras are put on top of cars in any hot, cold, wet, or dusty place, and we need to be sure that they survive those conditions. The roads might be really bumpy, and rocks might hit the lenses.
If the camera is in the hot desert of Jordan or the sweltering tropics of India, it needs to work just as well as anywhere else. This is not an easy task; inside our camera is a whole computer – it’s small, but it can get hot – as well as the image sensors themselves, which also get hot. We can’t put holes in the camera with fans to cool it off (as you might be able to do with say, a studio cinema camera).
So, our housing is sealed against the elements. We have scratch-resistant optical glass lens windows in front of the lenses to protect them from being damaged. We have a lot of thermal mass, as well as considerable heat sinks on the housing, which is thermally coupled to the hottest parts of the electronics.
All cameras have connectors on them, including ours. We don’t use consumer-grade connectors, which usually aren’t secure or reliable in the long run. We use industrial-grade waterproof connectors which are sure to work, always.
If you’re putting your camera on a tripod, it is okay to use a ¼” tripod screw. What is the worst that can happen? Nothing, really. If you’re putting a camera that is a few kilos on the roof of a car, you don’t want to gamble everything on the strength of one single screw. In fact, screws have very little shear strength, so if you’re holding two things together with only screws and nothing else, then a hard impact could snap the screws (say, if your car slams on the brakes, or hits something).
The camera mounting interface therefore has “keys” or notches, which fit into a counterpart hole, which help considerably in terms of resisting shearing forces, as this force will be concentrated on chunks of metal that are meant for that, while the screws do their job of holding everything together without any danger of breaking.
Our Timestamps and Synchronization
The Mosaic cameras exposure pulses, synchronization, PPS signal, anything that has a clock coming into or going out of our camera, we calibrate it in nanoseconds.
1000 nanoseconds = 1 microsecond
1000 microseconds = 1 millisecond
1000 milliseconds = 1 second
Yes, nanoseconds. That is all.
Our Auxiliary Port
Of course our cameras don’t exist in a vacuum. And we don’t even know how our products might be used. Our customers have lots of other types of devices that they use, and they might want to connect everything together. External GNSS, IMU, LiDAR, and so on – these devices need to be able to synchronize and talk to each other. Our auxiliary port has a standard rs-232 interface, and we have made it as easy as possible for our customers to use it.
Our Standalone Device Model
The Mosaic 51 and Mosaic X are both standalone units, meaning that they come with a built-in CPU and GPU (e.g. computers). This means that the data collector does not need to also buy, care for, or maintain a computer within the vehicle during data collection.
Both of these models are fully self sustaining and only require an external battery pack.
They have a hot swappable SSD storage unit which can store all of the images captured for a full day of data capture.
So what makes our cameras the best in the field?
As I spoke about in the previous article about technology, design and invention, you need to work with the best and latest technology and combine it in the way that best fixes the current challenges the users are facing.
We have taken into consideration the many issues that we’ve stored in the back of our minds for years from members of the geospatial community:
- Poor quality housing
- Inability to handle the heat
- Susceptible to fog up or allow in water
- Unable to remain attached to the roof on bumpy roads or when braking sharply
- Easily-scratched lenses which are costly to replace
- Difficult to use devices
- Heavy and therefore dangerous devices requiring multiple operators
Nothing is perfect, but currently, there is no better solution on the market and we’re not speaking without evidence.
Our approach with your camera, absolute winner. There isn’t any part of the process where we’ve felt that we’re going backwards.Dan Davis, Catsurveys
Buying this camera was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. On every single metric, the Mosaic 51 beat out the competitors: its image quality is the best.Pamela Blackmore, Sevier County
If you’re looking for the best mobile mapping cameras on the market, contact us and we’ll help you find the right tool for your job.