I was browsing my latest Nasa Tech Briefs newsletter (I know, I’m a big dork, right?) and I came across a new “technology” that sounded pretty cool – gigapixel photos. Sure, I’m a sucker for new technology, but this was apparently developed for the Mars Rover, so it’s got to be cool.

I started reading a little farther, and the article started throwing in words like “robotic” and “NASA engineered software” – sure fire ways to get a techie’s heart rate up. And then finally it explained what the technology does. It’s a camera mount that moves in a grid pattern to take 50-100 photos of a scene. And then the special software stitches them together into one massive photo. Wow, a robot that . . . wait, it just takes a bunch of photos in a grid arrangement? I’m pretty sure I could build that in my basement. And why do I need a “robot” for that? A few incremental scratch marks on my tripod would accomplish the same thing.

Well maybe it’s the software that’s so special. Let’s see, it takes a bunch of photos laid out on a grid and assembles them into one big photo. That doesn’t sound too hard. But ok, it has to deal with little overlaps between the photos, and any irregularities in the x-y coordinates of the device (though with a robot, I’d hope those are fairly precise!), and some angular distortion resulting from lens construction and the fact that the CCD is larger than a point . . . but doesn’t that free software that came with my camera do that already? Yes, in fact it does. And just in case it doesn’t do a good enough job for you, PS has an amazingly good panorama photo stitcher.

Ok, but all the overkill on the technology aside, you now have a gigapixel image. It’s huge! It has incredible detail! It . . . can’t be viewed on a normal monitor. Well it can, but it looks just like an ordinary photo. That sucks. But look how far you can zoom in! You can view an entire city scape, and then zoom in on a single store sign. Or . . . I could have taken a photo of the city scape, and a photo of the store. In fact, that’s basically what I had to do anyway. I don’t get it – gigapixel images just aren’t cool, not even with NASA engineering.