Inventor Don French has just developed this AutoMate, which is like a version of Gigapan, but for DSLR cameras. It lets your camera do time lapse movies, time lapse panoramas, event triggers and more. Some cameras like the Nikons already support it, but AutoMate adds a PDA/cellphone interface as well so you can trigger it from a few feet away. The best part, says camera fans, is that it's only 2 pounds but is still sturdy in SF Golden Gate Bridge winds. [The Gadget Works]
I am the inventor and I will try to answer some of your questions.
First, beta testers get a unit for $499, which is about $150 below retail. So I think that it is a fair deal. Hardware is not like software, where the publisher incurs no loss by distributing the beta versions for free, if that was your frame of reference. I am following the pattern of the Gigapan folks who charged $279 to get a beta unit which they are expected to offer for $299 retail sometime this fall. So their discount was not so deep as mine. And if you have a point-and-shoot camera rather than a DSLR, I suggest that you wait for them to make their unit available. Mine is for the big boys.
As to the nodal point issue, when taking gigapixel panos using a long lens, the nodal point is basically irrelevant. But for making spherical panos with a wide angle lens, you do need to take it into consideration. You can use an add-on rail to position the nodal point above the axis of horizontal rotation if you need to. However, it is not possible to use the automatic tilting mechanism to tilt the camera about the nodal point. There are workarounds, and one pro pano photographer is using one of them and is quite happy with it. (He is combining the AutoMate with a Nodal Ninja)
But yes, this is a compromise that was necessary to create such a small, compact, light weight package. On the other hand, to get a motorized pano head that does both horizontal and vertical rotation about the nodal point, you have to go to something like the Rodeon from Clauss for $4,500 or the PixOrb from Peace River for $11,500. And they don't have all the other fancy features mine does.
For those who say that they could build their own unit for $500, I say "Yes, do it!" I love DIY people and encourage them at every opportunity.