September 1, 2007 Computer engineers have designed a program that can stitch together still photos of a the same area to form a comprehensive three-dimensional picture of it. The software looks for small details shared between photos and builds a video game-like 3-D picture. The user can see an entire scene, but also zoom in on individual photos for close-up views.
As your digital pictures quickly add up, going through them can be overwhelming. But experimental software makes it easy to find just the picture you want -- and gives you a 3-D view into photo collections.
Click by click by click ... you quickly build up your collection of digital photos, until...
"I don't want to take the time to go through all these pictures," said Wilmot Li, an amateur photographer.
But experimental software from the University of Washington organizes your photos in a special way, so you can look through them as if you were there.
"So you could seamlessly move from one photo to the other and have the experience that a real person would have standing in front of the building and looking around," said Steve Seitz, associate professor from the University of Washington.
Computer scientist Noah Snavely helped develop the photo tourism software using computer vision techniques. Click on each pyramid to see a picture of the building from a different angle. You can zoom in and out, move left and right -- almost like a video game. The software can also sort through thousands of online pictures of a place. It looks for overlap in the images.
"It takes these photos, reasons about where they must have been taken, then builds up a 3-D model of the scene automatically," Snavely said.
The ultimate goal -- to create an online index so we can take a virtual tour through the entire world. Snavely will continue to develop photo-tourism for his doctoral thesis. He said real estate agencies, museums and hotels could use it to give potential customers a virtual tour of their products. Microsoft is already using a version of the software.
The Optical Society of America contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
BACKGROUND: Anyone with a digital camera knows how easy it is to take so many pictures that it can be difficult to find one specific photo later on. New software developed by scientists at the University of Washington helps you sort your vacation photos in a snap. The software goes well beyond simply organizing a photo collection, according to the UW researchers. It recreates a particular scene or location at the resolution of the photos.
HOW IT WORKS: The UW researchers turned to recent advances in computer vision research to solve the problem. They wrote computer software that analyzes each image and calculates where it was taken. To do this, the software looks for small details shared between different photos that can be used to compare them, and stitch them together in three dimensions. The photo is then represented by a small square placed in the appropriate position in a sketch of the original scene. Even though you are sifting through hundreds or thousands of photos, it feels more like playing a video game. By moving right or left, zooming in and out, the computer will fade to an appropriate shot. Highlighting a feature -- such as the statue of Neptune at the center of Trevi Fountain in Italy -- brings up a high-resolution photo of that object. The current user interface presents each photo as a little box, and photos fade into one another to give the impression of a 3-D zoom. The next version will create an even more fluid, game-like interface so that users feel they truly are navigating in a 3-D world.
WHO COULD USE IT: Real estate agencies, restaurants, museums and hotels might find it useful as a means of presenting a virtual tour, because viewers could zoom in to read a restaurant menu or to view a painting, for example. Archaeologists and biologists would be able to create realistic visual representations of their research sites. Military and surveillance organizations also would like to organize photographs in a more intuitive fashion. Sports fans could even recreate their favorite game by combining all the photos taken at an event. By far the most promising potential application is organizing the millions of photos that currently exist on the Internet -- sort of a visual Wikipedia. Contributors could upload photos and the program would combine them to create an increasingly comprehensive picture of the world. Further in the future, combining the photos with a digital map like Google Earth would mean users could keep zooming in closer without the image ever going fuzzy.