After an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, search-and-rescue teams descended upon Port-au-Prince to look for survivors. Francisco Aguilar, a graduate student in public policy at the time, was shocked to read stories about crews relying on complex, expensive imaging systems. “Only a few teams had them, and you had to be really well trained to use them,” Aguilar says. He soon launched a start-up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to develop a simple way to explore hard-to-reach places: a throwable, expendable, baseball-size probe.
The Bounce Imaging Explorer has a shock-absorbing shell embedded with six cameras, plus clusters of near-infrared LEDs to light up dark rooms (for the cameras). To deploy the Explorer, an emergency worker links it to a smartphone or tablet and chucks the ball into danger. It immediately begins taking photos and testing for methane, carbon monoxide, and dangerously high temperatures. A microprocessor inside the ball then stiches the photos together and converts the raw data for transmission over Wi-Fi. Just seconds after the toss, a wrap-around panorama-complete with environmental warnings-appears on the synced device.
Aguilar quickly imagined applications beyond disaster areas, such as burning buildings, hostage crises, and combat zones, so he sought feedback from potential customers. His start-up cranked through dozens of prototypes in the first 18 months, tweaking the design as requests poured in. When several police officers said they wanted to be able to hear inside a room, for example, Aguilar added a digital microphone.
Police, firefighters, soldiers, and nuclear-plant inspectors have offered to test the device, which Aguilar is determined to keep between $500 and $1,000. “We want to get it as cheap as possible so it can be as broadly deployed as possible,” he says.
Bounce Imaging Explorer
COST TO DEVELOP
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