Photosynth: Out of this World
First there was the snapshot, and then came video. Now there is Photosynth, a new service that allows users to transform regular digital
photos into 3-D, 360-degree “synths.” Photosynth analyzes each photo for similarities to the others, and uses that data to build a model of where the photos were taken. It then re-creates the environment and uses that as a canvas on which to display the photos.
Photosynth is really two technologies in one product: a viewer for downloading and navigating, and a “synther” for creating the synths in the first place. Together, they reconstruct the 3-D world for sets of flat photographs. The synther requires large amounts of visual data to generate its 3-D environments, and uses Seadragon technology to make it possible.
With Photosynth, users can look up or down, pan from left to right, zoom in, or pull back to reveal the full sense of the location. Once created, synths also can be embedded on Web sites, blogs and social networking sites or virtually anywhere HTML can be edited. Finished synths can be accessed from any Windows XP- or Windows Vista-powered computer with a broadband connection.
Photosynth was a born of a collaboration between Microsoft Live Labs and the University of Washington, based on the research of Noah Snavely (UW), Steve Seitz (UW) and Richard Szeliski (Microsoft Research). Recent collaboration with National Geographic has produced exclusive synths with incredibly realistic close-up detail of some of the world’s most renowned locations, such as Machu Picchu and the Parthenon.
NASA also has been working with Live Labs since early in the Photosynth project. The Space Agency wanted to create a 3-D rendering of the interior of the International Space Station (ISS) for training purposes, so astronauts would be somewhat familiar with it before they arrived. Officials also wanted to use it during the mission to check the outside of the ISS for any problems, without the potential challenges posed by a space walk, which can be cumbersome and time-consuming.
The Photosynth team is now joining MSN to continue to improve Photosynth and share the experience with an even wider audience. In addition to allowing users to create and share synths at photosynth.com, over the next year, Photosynth will begin to become a part of the experience for MSN’s visitors, where synths of popular destinations and notable events will be prominently featured in many of the places where static images are used on the site today.