For Stealth HD’s Video Software, A Panorama of Applications

7/10/12Follow @wroush

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Make the software the product. “We realized that we should do was focus on building a platform that allows people to generate and view this type of video,” Banta says. “That was a difficult shift, personally, because my expertise is hardware and we were getting rid of the hardware piece. But it definitely made sense for the company.”

Banta says the special sauce in Stealth HD’s technology is spread across three different areas. First, there’s the parallel processing that needs to be done to analyze the video from four separate cameras, identify the overlap, and stitch the images together so that the seams aren’t noticeable, all at 20 frames per second (the startup hopes to hit a full 30 frames per second by the end of the summer). Second, the software has to do a lot of additional processing to ensure that color saturation and exposure levels are consistent all the way around a 360-degree image. Third, there’s the problem of wrapping the image around on itself, forming a true cylinder. After all, the underlying image file is just a big, flat rectangle that’s 1,080 pixels high and 7,680 pixels wide (4 x 1920). “For a long time, we were able to get three of the seams to look really good, but the fourth was always bad because it was the one with the outside edges,” says Banta. But the problem was eventually solved—see the demo video below.

The startup’s May victory in the Stanford entrepreneurship competition brought a $20,000 prize. “That was a big validation,” says Banta. “Now it’s a matter of moving forward and figuring out who we want to partner with, finding investors, building out the team, and building out the platform.” In other words, everything.

Having sidestepped the hardware business, Banta thinks Stealth HD will end up earning revenue as a cloud service provider. “Say you have a panoramic video stream that you want to create,” he says. “You stream it to our cloud, we process it and stream it back to you, and you pay us X dollars per month, and you do whatever you want with the video.”

That “whatever” could range from athletic development to surveillance. A quarterback with panoramic cameras in his helmet, for example, could review Stealth HD’s video after a game to figure out where the defensive lineman who sacked him came from. Even more intriguingly, football fans subscribing to some future enhanced broadcasting service might be able to call up the helmet-cam video on their tablets as a premium add-on.

On a more practical level, Stealth HD’s technology could simplify video surveillance. “If you have a power plant or a military base, instead of setting up 50 cameras to monitor a perimeter, why not just set up one at each corner?” asks Banta. It might even be sensible to mount omnidirectional cameras on drones like the Predator, to supplement the views available to remote drone pilots. “There is a lot of value to these super-high-resolution zoom cameras, but the analogy one Air Force guy gave us is that it’s like looking through a straw,” Banta says. “At the same time you need situational awareness, so you can analyze what is going on around the target.”

Banta says Stealth HD has no commercial partnerships to announce, but it sounds like there are quite a few in the formative stages. If the technology does take off, Banta would probably feel a lot better about missing his chance to fly Navy jets. “Wouldn’t it be ironic if this ended up making a much bigger contribution to the military than I could have as an individual pilot?” he says. “If it works out that we can save lives or help people make the right decisions in real time, then that is awesome.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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