Google Unlocks the Art in the Details with the Art Camera


In the lead-up to the Google I/O 2016 developer festival, held from May 18 – 20, in Mountain View, California, the company has unveiled The Art Camera, a robotic camera, custom-built to record cultural masterworks in gigapixel images. Comprising more than one billion pixels, the ultra-high resolution of a gigapixel image can bring out details invisible to the naked eye.

This highly advanced system was developed by the Google Cultural Institute, the company’s not-for-profit initiative that partners with cultural organizations to bring the world’s cultural heritage online. As noted in the official press release, “Many of the works of our greatest artists are fragile and sensitive to light and humidity. With the Art Camera, museums can share these priceless works with the global public while ensuring they're preserved for future generations.”

Creating digital images in such high resolution is a complex technical challenge that requires highly specialized equipment. The Google Cultural Institute has only been able to share about 200 gigapixel images since its founding in 2011. But now armed with the Art Camera, it will be able to accomplish much more than that.

Designed to be easy to use, the Art Camera operates by means of a robotic system, which steers the camera from detail to detail to make hundreds of high resolution close-ups. The camera is equipped with laser and sonar, using high-frequency sound to measure distance and ensure accurate focus on each individual brush stroke. Once a work has been fully captured, the individual files are delivered to Google’s servers to be stitched together into a single image.

To accompany the Art Camera’s unveiling, the Institute shared 1,000 ultra-high resolution images of works from its current roster of organizational partners, which are archived on its website. Searchable by collection, artist, medium, and date, as well as other descriptive terms and customizable keywords, the site allows viewers to bring collections of related art together in revealing ways, as described in the Art Camera announcement. “If you wanted to see Van Gogh’s six famous portraits of the Roulin family up close, you’d need to travel across the Netherlands, then over to LA and New York. Now the Art Camera can travel for you. It’s already captured the Portrait of Armand Roulin, which you can explore alongside the rest of the family, all in one place.”

Additionally, in celebration of International Museum Day on May 18, Google is welcoming more than 25 new museums as partners. A fleet of 20 Art Cameras is also ready to be sent from museum to museum, to digitize works from each collection for in-depth viewing and study on an unprecedented scale.

Please note: This article is for informational purposes only, because we are excited about this technology and its use in global arts and culture. This camera will not be available for sale by B&H.