We were given a brief glimpse of this technology at Webstock Mini-June conference held here in Wellington last week. The presenter was Leigh Blackall, he showed us some features of Second Life virtual world. Proceeding on that topic he also gave us a brief glimpse of Photosynth. Curiosity drove me to the source.
With the competition in internet innovation hotting up these days a lot of brilliant ideas are finding voice. An exciting development to come out of Microsoft Labs was demonstrated at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks held every year in California, United States.
This was the first of the two technologies presented. Using the new Windows Media Photo Format, examples were shown of collages of photographs, that can be zoomed endlessly down to the tiniest level, smoothly and effortlessly. At one stage the software architect Blaise Aguera Y Arcas, mentioned that they were using 300 MegaPixel images. To put that in perspective, most images we get from digital cameras are only around 3 to 5 MegaPixels, and these are capable of being printed in large poster format without distortion. To facilitate this kind of technology I would normally assume that the software that can manipulate objects of this size would be very sophisticated and complex, requiring machines at super-computer level including giant memory stores connected to a very large bandwidth network. Yet, this project, which is under incubation at Microsoft Live Labs promises:
- Speed of navigation is independent of the size or number of objects.
- Performance depends only on the ratio of bandwidth to pixels on the screen.
- Transitions are smooth as butter.
- Scaling is near perfect and rapid for screens of any resolution.
This other project from Microsoft Live Labs allows one to see the photos in a context of 3D virtual world representation of the place where the photograph was taken. The model seems to map the position of the camera, the position of the photographed subject, and the photograph itself. Now, integrated with countless other photographs in the same area. What you effectively build up is a 3D world showing the view from any point in any direction using available photographic detail of the area.
Some latest digital cameras that come with built in Global Positioning System (GPS) sensors could, theoretically, encode the photograph itself with the data (or metadata) of where it was taken. To get the effective 3D coordinates, the metadata should also include the height in terms of 'above sea-level' of the photographer. However, Photosynth works from the other end - it takes your photographs, analyzes them, and working from familiar features in the photo - such as the architectural lines of a known building, determines the position and angle of the camera. Thus, the onus is lifted from the user to provide the location metadata for the photo.
There are further benefits envisaged to this technology such as Smart Photos - the idea of taking a photo of some item with your cellphone-camera, and sending it to a service that determines what's in the picture and sending you back information about the subject. Great for tourists!
You can install and try out the software, but note the system requirements before you begin.
One particular word said by the presenter is going to stick around in my mind - metaverse. It seems to be a reference to a universe built by amalgamation of all kinds of related objects, facilitated by the metadata of those objects.
The TED Presentation