Imagine if your digital photos could be arranged in a collage and merged into a panoramic shot of a place. Cool, right?
Now, imagine if your pictures could be arranged in a collage and merged into a 3D representation of the pictured place, that you could take a virtual stroll through. Amazing, right?
Now, imagine the possibilities if all of your pictures, and all of my pictures, and all of everyone’s pictures could merge into a constantly improving and evolving 3D virtual Earth. (Who needs a satellite map?)
Well, it’s not quite that far along yet, but a crew of coders in Microsoft’s Live Labs are developing an amazing project called Photosynth that could one day do all of that, and more. The technology, developed in collaboration with the University of Washington and now rolling in visualization from Seadragon (a company acquired by Microsoft), can already do most of the above.
Photosynth works by analyzing each photo in a collection fed to it, determining features of interest in the photo and drawing a map of these points. The points act as a signature for the objects in the photo, and when compared with the feature points of the same objects in other pictures, allows the computer to map the photos in a three-dimensional space, in a similar way to how two images provided by our two eyes allow us to perceive depth.
As the team points out, the analysis of the photos also has the added benefit of establishing a ‘fingerprint’ for the photo that computer systems could use to identify the subject of the photo. This could lead to some really usesful applications, like the ability to photograph a landmark with your cell phone and have Photosynth technology match it and provide identification or other desired information about the landmark from the web.
Imagine a massive web-based Photosynth virtual world, where submitted photos are put together in a walkthrough globe. Google Earth is already taking steps in this direction, with 3D models that approximate buildings, and community-built markers, overlays, animations, and 3D models. Technology like Photosynth have the potential to take the idea to a whole new level of realism and utility.
(I’m a little late to the party, but a hat tip to Scobleizer for pointing this out!)