Researchers at the Beckman Institute have developed a special computerized camera that has the ability to take 360-degree panoramic photographs. It does this by rotating a digital camera and taking multiple images, which are processed and merged into one continuous photograph. Due to the way the pictures are captured and processed, everything in the panorama is crisply focused, whether it be very close to the camera or far away. Click on the picture of the lobby to see a strong demonstration of this capability.
Peter Sochacki and Matthew Thomas, both Engineering seniors who are involved with the project, brought the camera and computer over to the Virginia theater to take some pictures on the day of the "2001" showing. We ended up with two roughly 180-degree pictures of the lobby and the inside of the theater.
The hardware is currently bit difficult to move about and position because the camera is still in development. Also, the camera can't freeze motion unless it's in bright light conditions. However, both of these limitations can be overcome with specially manufactured hardware and a more expensive camera/lens setup.
The camera currently only works with grayscale images, but color should be equally feasible using an extension of the theory and process now used. The camera could find applications in artifically intelligent computer visualization or virtual reality environments.
See also: "2001" fills the theater, Roger Ebert hosts wide-screen showing at the Virginia Theater