The KineCAM Churns Out Physical Animated Photographs Using a Raspberry Pi and a Thermal Printer

Capturing a short video and interlacing it into a single printable image, this barrier-grid camera adds a third dimension to its snaps.

A team of searchers at the Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an instant camera with a difference: it prints out animated photographs, using a twist on a vintage barrier-grid animation technique to create physical "kinegrams."

"The kinegram is a classic animation technique that involves sliding a striped overlay across an interlaced image to create the effect of frame-by-frame motion," the team explains of the history behind their work. "While there are known tools for generating kinegrams from pre-existing videos and images, there exists no system for capturing and fabricating kinegrams in situ. To bridge this gap, we created KineCAM, an open source instant camera that captures and prints animated photographs in the form of kinegrams."

The KineCAM prints out instant photos with a twist: they're animated, rather than static. (πŸ“Ή: Sethapakdi et al)

The Kinegram itself is built up of a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ single-board computer connected to a low-cost thermal printer, originally designed to print receipts on continuous roll paper, and a Arducam 5MP Camera Module with a battery, physical shutter button, indicator LED, and a simple housing β€” costing, all-in, less than $100.

"Rather than capturing static images," the team explains, "KineCAM is able to capture dynamic movements, which expands the artistic potential for instant photography. Unlike the 'black box' of a Polaroid camera, KineCAM also provides access to the internal hardware and software systems, which enables users to customize their cameras and produce a wider range of visual outputs."

The KineCAM system works by capturing a one-second video clip, rather than a single image. Once captured, the video is processed on the Raspberry Pi into individual frames, which are then interlaced together into a single image combining stripes from multiple frames. When the image is printed on the camera's internal thermal printer, it looks like glitch art β€” but when an overlay is placed on top, printed on transparency paper using a standard inkjet printer, all but a single frame's lines are hidden. Move the overlay up and down, and the animation "plays."

"We used KineCAM to create a portrait series that captures an afternoon social gathering," the team says. "Subjects were invited to have their picture taken while we observed how they interacted with the camera. Our experiences from this activity enabled us to see how KineCAM creates opportunities for experimental, low-stakes, social photography. KineCAM is an unconventional photographic device that piques curiosity and encourages experimentation."

"Although it looks like an unassuming instant camera on the surface," the team continues, "KineCAM produces photos that are not typical of instant cameras. This subversion of expectations drew subjects to KineCAM and encouraged them to experiment with the outputs. In our photo sessions, subjects tested the expressiveness of KineCAM by performing actions ranging from subtle hand gestures to large full body movements."

A paper detailing the KineCAM project was published in the Proceedings of SIGGRAPH '22 with a PDF copy available under open-access terms from the CSAIL website, with more information available on the project website and in a recording of the project's SIGGRAPH talk. Design files and source code, meanwhile, have been published to GitHub under an unspecified open source license.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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