RICOH THETA X is the first model in the RICOH THETA series to feature a built-in GPS function.While previous models acquired location information via the THETA app on your smartphone, THETA X can now do that on its own.

What can be achieved by being able to easily acquire accurate location information with a 360-degree camera?

The goal is to create a world in which everyone can benefit from and make use of spatial information using a device that can acquire location information and images.

For this interview, we spoke with professor Taichi Furuhashi from Aoyama Gakuin University, who is involved in a variety of map-related initiatives they call “Billions Inō-zation,” some of which implement THETA X.

360-degree images and location information

What is the “Billions Inō-zation” you are working toward?

“Billions Inō-zation” is the catchphrase of my laboratory. Tadataka Inou was a famous Edo period cartographer and surveyor who spent 17 years surveying all over Japan. Through his effort, he completed a map of the entire country. Today, about over 100 million Japanese, and around 8 billion people around the world, can easily use GPS-equipped devices such as smartphones and drones. This means that anyone, anywhere can “determine positions”. In other words, anyone can become Tadataka Inou.

Currently, I am mainly involved in creating map information for various regions using OpenStreetMap, OpenAerialMap, and Mapillary, as well as working toward the concept of digitizing map information for cities, while also running a map consulting company called Map Concierge.

What is the importance of being able to “determine positions” with a 360-degree camera?

Being able to locate a place allows us to accurately convey location information (the “here”) to third parties. In addition, a 360-degree camera can also provide a 360-degree view with location information—”here” plus “this view.” THETA X is equipped with a built-in GPS, and it is even easier than the previous THETA to capture 360-degree images with more accurate location information, and we believe that THETA will be used more widely for business purposes in the future.

Mapillary by using THETA X

Are there any advantages to having “built-in GPS”?

Conventional THETAs had to be connected to a smartphone to acquire location data via the smartphone’s THETA app. However, in that case, there were often connection problems and the location information was often slightly different, so it could not be used when high accuracy was needed. Therefore, when using THETA, we had to match the location data acquired by other devices with THETA images.

But with built-in GPS, like the one in THETA X, the amount of work involved is drastically reduced, and image data can be handled more efficiently.

Impression of THETA X

You have used a lot of models since the first THETA, so how do you feel about THETA X?

For me, someone who places great importance on acquiring location data, THETA X has exceeded my expectations. It has all the features I wanted, and I thought “Wow, THETA has come so far!”

THETA X has improved many weak points. For example, THETA X now supports battery replacement and SD cards so that users no longer have to worry about charging and data capacity when shooting.

Another key point is that the USB-C cable socket is now on the side of THETA, rather than on the bottom, so that when the camera is attached on a tripod, the cable and tripod don’t interfere with each other and power can continue to be supplied.

For people like me who upload images to mapping services, it is necessary to take photos for long periods of time while keeping the camera powered. THETA X is structurally very different from previous models, making it possible to do so more efficiently.

Also I imagined that the body would be a bit larger with the built-in GPS, but was surprised to find that it is not much different from previous models.

Our target for GPS accuracy for THETA X is within 5 meters. What level of GPS accuracy are you looking for in your work?

The best accuracy is a 2-3 meter error. Less than 10 meters error is acceptable in practical use. If the error is within 5 meters of the actual value, as it is with THETA X, then accuracy is not a problem. I found the THETA X’s GPS accuracy to be almost problem-free when taking pictures while walking.

Mapillary by using THETA X

Did you also take advantage of the A-GPS* functionality that was first included in THETA X?

A-GPS is a very useful function. It provides supplementary location data via the Internet in advance, so it is possible to obtain highly accurate location information as soon as the camera is turned on.

*A-GPS is a GPS technology that uses local networks as a supplement to obtain location information. It can shorten the time for positioning. In THETA X, A-GPS can be acquired by connecting directly to a wireless LAN in client mode.

How do you always shoot 360-degree images for use in mapping data?

Usually, I take 6-second interval shots. I am also looking forward to utilizing the 8K 10fps video mode, which will be supported in the next firmware update, as I believe that this mode, with CaMM location data updating once per second and a high speed of 10 frames (10 images) per second in 8K, can be used for map data.

Expectations for THETA X

Please tell us your future expectations for THETA X.

The large control screen on THETA X makes me want to create my own plug-ins. For example, I think it would be useful to have a dedicated plug-in that would allow me to upload images directly from THETA X to Mapillary, which I use. In fact, my colleagues and I are considering the possibility of creating such a plug-in.

The expandability of THETA X plug-ins is something we would like to see 3rd party developers take advantage of. Do you envision any other apps for built-in GPS?

If 360-degree images can now be easily attached with highly accurate location information, we can expect to see a variety of business apps. For example, when an insurance company needs to take images for evidence, they can use THETA X to quickly and easily take photos of the scene with location data attached.

Another key concept I am currently working on is the “digital twin.” By digitizing cities, we will be able to freely change them on our PCs in any way we want, and then apply those changes to the real world. To do this, it is first necessary to digitize the city in three dimensions.

The term “digital twin” has been used a lot lately.

We believe that what is needed for the three-dimensional digitization of cities is technology that uses lasers, such as LiDAR*, to measure the distance and direction of objects, and 360-degree camera technology to add images as scenery to these measurements.

Although there are 360-degree cameras that can measure distance using infrared rays, they are very expensive and large. THETA is small enough to carry, shoots with one click, and has built-in GPS. I hope that THETA X will be able to utilize not only images but also location information for 3D digitization of cities.

*LiDAR is a remote sensing technology that uses laser beams to measure the distance and direction of distant objects.

For example, it would be great if a plug-in appeared that would allow simple photogrammetry* just by walking around with THETA X, even if it were simple and rough. I also dream that in the future, THETA X for professional surveying with higher performance, connectivity to an external GPS antenna, and RTK/PPK compatibility will open up even more possibilities in our industry.

*A method of photographing a subject from various angles and analyzing and integrating the digital images to create a 3DCG model.

Thank you very much for your talk! We hope that THETA X will be used by people who take images for map services and other industries around the world!

Please refer this article for the build-in GPS function for THETA X.