RealTime IT News

Microsoft Technology Makes Photos Feel 3D

Microsoft Research has another nifty technology about to escape its labs.

Photosynth can transform a group of photos online to create a 3D space on the Web for users to "fly" through via mouse.

The Photosynth software analyzes a group of images for similarities, such as the same window, wall or doorway, then displays them in a reconstructed 3D space.

For example, a person could take a batch of photos of a major location, like Trafalgar Square in London, or just walk through a house taking pictures, and Photosynth will allow you to move through it in 3D space and view the photos from any angle.

"This gives photos an extra dimension. Most people, when they look at the system, they feel like photos are not flat things in a slide show, they feel like they are floating around in this 3D world," said Richard Szeliski, principal researcher at Microsoft Research , who developed the technology.

Each photo is processed by algorithms to extract hundreds of distinctive features. When a feature is found in multiple images, Photosynth extrapolates its 3D position within the picture.

This allows it to take several photos and blend them together to create a single image while preserving detail.

This technology is geared toward Web use, according to Szeliski. It only sends down the bits to display what you need, so if you zoom in, the detailed information is sent down.

This is a major improvement over VRML,  an early attempt on the Web to create a 3D look.

"VRML was very dead, it didn't look real. Here you're looking at a photograph," said Szeliski.

But even though you have the detail of a photo, the file is not as heavy as Flash animation.

"Files are streamed to you in a multi-resolution format. When you look at this on the Web, they are streamed at the pace you need. When you zoom in, it sends the bits you need. It's very much meant to be a Web application," he said.

The system can work with as little as two pictures, but the more the better to make an accurate and in-depth experience, said Szeliski.

The more pictures, the larger a 3D model for people to navigate.

Szeliski expects Photosynth to be most widely-used by real estate, travel and tourism businesses, as it gives people a chance to move around in an area without being there.

But it will be available for everyone. Microsoft will eventually make an authoring tool available for creating Photosynth-generated 3D worlds, he said.

Microsoft said it expects to release Photosynth some time this year.