Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Mmmmm, synthy...

After much delay (like MUCH delay) Photosynth has finally launched. For those who haven't seen the TED video or the Live Labs blog, this is a piece of software out of Microsoft Live Labs that allows you and I to create 3D panoramas from a series of still images. Download the app, upload your images and you can view a 3D representation of the environment you photographed. No need to carefully line up the shots - this isn't a regular panorama - the app does it all for you.

I won't go into all the point cloud geometry craziness, but the algorithms it runs to create these worlds are very cool.

I first saw it quite a while ago in Seattle, demonstrated by Blaise Aguera y Arcas, who was brought in on the project to add some Seadragon goodness to some tech that at that point was called Photo Tourism - a research project by Noah Snavely, Steven M. Seitz, Richard Szeliski out of Washington University.

Seadragon has spawned Deep Zoom, which I blogged about a while ago and Photosynth is now in the wild with some very interesting first synths. I especially like the Potting Shed.

A few things jump out at me:
- this is still an early iteration - stand by for slicker versions to come.
- in the early days it took a cluster of PCs weeks to generate a synth - now your PC does it in minutes. This is where a lot of the effort has gone over the last two years - tedious but critical optimisation.
- Live Labs is designed to develop great technology, not necessarily to monetise it or even give it too much direction. After the thrill of recreating your own toilet in 3D has worn off, people should come up with incredible scenarios where this technology does things that are otherwise impossible.
- it isn't QTVR - this really does create a 3D space.
- why doesn't this leverage the traction that Silverlight got over the Olympics?

So for libraries and museums you could see a variety of applications from the virtual desk of a writer, to a virtual gallery. Or how about trawling your archives for photographs of a long-demolished building and recreating it?

Keep an eye on this one. QuickTime 1.0 was 160x120 12fps, 8 bit colour. From there to setting the standards for YouTube and having HD movies on demand was quite a journey. This one might be too.