API, SDK Let Third Parties Customize the THETA V 360-Deg. Camera Ricoh

API, SDK Let Third Parties Customize the THETA V 360-Deg. Camera

Ricoh’s Takeharu Tone talks with Senior Tech Editor Bill Wong about the THETA V’s API and SDK, which make it possible for third-party developers to create their own Android-based plug-ins to customize the camera.

Augmented and virtual reality take advantage of 3D imaging. Getting such content can be done in a variety of ways, including 360-degree cameras like Ricoh’s THETA V. Simply recording content is great, but the THETA V is actually running Android, and it can be programmed to do more than just record at the press of a button. Ricoh’s new SDK and matching API make it possible to customize the platform.

Takeharu "TK" Tone, THETA Product Manager, Ricoh Innovations

I talked with Takeharu Tone, Ricoh THETA Product Manager at Ricoh Innovations, about the new platform and how it might be used.

What are some of the applications for 360-deg. cameras?

We believe there are various opportunities for both consumer and business applications with the Ricoh THETA 360-deg. camera. People are using the Theta during their travels and at parties and events to capture memories with their family and friends. As for business applications, various industries such as real estate, construction, used-car, tourism, and law enforcement integrate the Theta into their workflow.

What kind of customization would be useful in these applications?

One example is a direct upload feature that can automatically store all photos and video from the camera to photo storage services (such as Google Photos, Flickr etc.). Let's say people go hiking and take many photos and videos. After getting back home, the THETA V with the plug-in will connect to their home Wi-Fi and store all photos and videos to the cloud storage services automatically. This would be a great benefit to any consumer.

Ricoh's THETA V 360-deg. camera.

This feature could also include customized functions that would benefit vertical markets such as real estate, construction, tourism, and law enforcement. In construction facilities, many photos are taken every day to measure progress. After returning to the office, the THETA V with the direct upload plug-in can connect to their network and begin uploading every photo to their server automatically. The customized function can drive efficiency and streamline their workflow for improved productivity.

What is the RICOH THETA Plug-In Partner Program?

The RICOH THETA V Partner Program, originally announced at CES 2018, will support third-party developers interested in creating their own Android-based plug-ins for the RICOH THETA V. This top-of-the-line Ricoh 360° camera is capable of capturing fully-spherical photos and 4K video and supports 360° Live Streaming and Spatial Audio.

Ricoh is releasing documentation and an SDK that includes a sample plug-in. Developers need to have their THETA V unlocked in order to begin testing and development. Developers wishing to get involved early can contact the organizers of the theta360.guide developer site to sign up. (Full documentation is available at https://api.ricoh/docs/theta-plugin/, and the SDK is available at https://github.com/ricohapi/theta-plugin-sdk)

What technically is different between the previous model THETA S and the new THETA V?

The THETA V has multiple features that have been enhanced for both consumer and business purposes, including significant benefits for developers building products, applications, and services.

The processor powering the camera is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625, which makes it possible to capture 5.4K photo and 4K/30-frame/s video with real-time stitching process.

This allows for faster time between pictures; eight seconds for the THETA S versus four seconds for the THETA V. It also provides faster file download times than the THETA S; seven seconds versus one second, even at the lower 2.4-GHz Wi-Fi connection to the mobile app.

Picture-taking speed of the V overall is 3X faster than the S; five seconds versus 15 seconds. With the V, four seconds is required for stitching and one second for the transfer time. For the THETA S, seven seconds is the transfer time, and eight seconds is the stitching time.

Downloading speed via Wi-Fi using 5 GHz is even faster and very useful when downloading large 4K videos.

What is the development environment of the THETA V?

Prior the THETA V, THETA models supported the Open Spherical Camera API. This was the basis of a large and energetic ecosystem of apps being developed for the THETA.

However, building apps required an additional step of moving pictures and video from the camera to a mobile phone first. In contrast, plug-ins are installed in the THETA V and control the camera directly.

Plug-ins are developed with a standard Android SDK. Using Android Studio, developers can create their customized functions, and then build and install the APK as a plug-in on THETA V. This makes development analogous to building apps for an Android phone. However, there is one major difference—there is no LCD on the camera. Tools like the open-source Vysor desktop tool help test plug-ins. They allow the developer to see the THETA V with an emulated screen. Multiple tools can be used here.

Developers can get up to speed quickly and start building simple plug-ins within a few hours. Of course, building a commercial plug-in will take more time and expertise, but the path to get started is clear and easy.

What plug-ins are currently available?

Ricoh has released two plug-ins to date, with more to come, as a way to stimulate interest and extend functionality. The Remote Playback and the USB Data Transfer plug-ins are available publicly.

The Remote Playback plug-in displays any images and videos in the camera on a Smart TV with mirroring or any device using Miracast. The camera itself becomes a pointer to choose the images and videos with gestures. (See video and pictures at https://community.theta360.guide/t/remote-playback-presentations-to-smart-tv/2681)

The USB Data Transfer plug-in allows users to plug into external storage to offload images and video easily. (See video and pictures at http://theta360.guide/usbstorageplugin/)

The full plug-in roadmap for 2018 from Ricoh is available at https://theta360.com/uk/about/theta/v/roadmap.html.

What industries are doing development with THETA?

Companies that work in automotive, construction, law enforcement, museums, real estate, and       more have implemented 360° products and solutions based on the RICOH THETA. Rather than focusing on 360° technology itself, companies are looking for more efficient solutions that save time and money.

In construction, for example, multiple companies have implemented solutions with RICOH THETA for documenting and reporting on construction sites. Using 360° technology eliminates the need for taking multiple pictures from multiple angles and connecting them later. Only one 360° picture per location is required. The end user can move quickly to the next location. A webinar with three Construction companies implementing 360° solutions is available here.

Takeharu “TK” Tone is responsible for business development and technical partnership development for the RICOH THETA 360-degree camera and its API. His work has included the creation of an extremely active developer community and support of marketing and sales of the camera. TK participated in the launch of the Ricoh Theta V, the newest 360-deg. camera from Ricoh that’s capable of 4K video with spatial audio and 4K live-streaming. TK supports various use-cases for the camera, ranging from enthusiastic hobbyists to larger businesses utilizing the Ricoh Theta. In his spare time, TK likes to hike in Northern California and play ultimate frisbee.

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