Wednesday, 16 Sep, 2009 Technology
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Latest invention: Technology That Turns a Myriad of Digital Photos into 3D Maps

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Everyone knows that Rome wasn't built in a day. In fact, it took about ten years to construct the Coliseum and about a hundred years to build St. Peter's Basilica. But using latest technology it is possible now to digitize the whole city in just hours.

Engineers from the University of Washington managed to come up with an algorithm that uses hundreds of thousands of photographs taken by tourists to recreate the whole Rome automatically in one day. On the right you can see the digital reconstruction of the Coliseum, where each triangle represents the position from which a person took a photo. The shape of the building is established by analyzing images taken from different perspectives.

The latest invention developed at UW allows using huge collections of pictures from photo-sharing websites. The digital Rome was built from 150,000 tourist pictures stored at Flickr and tagged with the words "Rome" or "Roma". Each photo was analyzed by the computer, which in 21 hours managed to build a 3D digital model of the Italian city. Using this latest invention, one can take a virtual tour around the city and visit its landmarks.

It is worth mentioning that previous version of this technology were called Photo Tourism and was licensed to Microsoft in 2006, later being available as a free tool known as Photosynth.

"With Photosynth and Photo Tourism, we basically reconstruct individual landmarks. Here we're trying to reconstruct entire cities," mentioned co-author Noah Snavely, assistant professor at Cornell University and the one who created Photo Tourism as his UW doctoral work, reports Physorg. Mr. Snavely, Rick Szeliski of Microsoft Research, Steve Seitz, UW computer science professor and Ian Simon, UW graduate student, represent the team that besides Rome developed 3D models of the Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik, where they used 350 computers to process 60,000 photos in almost 23 hours, and Venice, Italy, where 500 computers processed 250,000 photos in 65 hours.

The new technology takes advantage of parallel processing techniques, which makes it possible to run at the same time on many machines or on remote servers that are connected via the Internet. The code works a hundred times faster than previous versions. With the help of their latest invention, the team will be able to create online maps that would provide a virtual tour experience. The technology could also be used in video games and in architecture for digital preservation.

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