The RICOH THETA S is a fairly affordable consumer 360° camera, which allows users to capture interesting locations and events for viewing through VR headsets and mobile-equipped Google Cardboard. When set up alongside a Raspberry Pi acting as a controller, plus a protective bubble, various cables, and good ol’ Mother Nature, the camera becomes a gateway to a serene escape from city life.
Ecologist Koen Hufkens, from the Richardson Lab in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, decided to do exactly that, creating the Virtual Forest with the aim of “showing people how the forest changes throughout the seasons…and the beauty of the forest”.
The camera takes a still photograph every 15 minutes, uploading it for our viewing pleasure. The setup currently only supports daylight viewing, as the camera is not equipped for night vision, so check your watch first.
360 view of a day in a North-Eastern Hardwood forest during autumn
The build cost somewhere in the region of $500 to create; Hufkens provides a complete ingredients list here, with supporting code on GitHub. He also aims to improve the setup by using the new Nikon KeyMission, which can record video at 4K ultra-HD resolution.
The Virtual Forest has been placed deep within the heart of Harvard Forest, a university-owned plot of land used both by researchers and by the general public. If you live nearby, you could go look at it and possibly even appear in a photo. Please resist the urge to photobomb, though, because that would totally defeat the peopleless zen tranquility that we’re feeling here in Pi Towers.