Friday, August 22, 2008

Microsoft PhotoSynth

It's been a while since I've posted. But anyway...

Microsoft finally released a public version of Photosynth under the domain

Photosyth has been previously talked about under the project name SeaDragon in Microsoft Labs and was recently demoed at the MIX'08 conference . It's nice to see it finally become open for public consumption. Like some of the other next-gen computer applications that are beginning to surface (seam carving, audio scope, photo to video mapping, etc), Photosynth pulls your data together and finds matching patterns that it can then build into new and some times fascinating results.

Photosynth is interesting because it can take multiple photos of a location and apply image recognition techiques to then calculate where each picture belongs in 3D space in relation to the others. Then it will map those pixels into a sort of 3D-connect-the-dots environment that you can pan around in and see, virtually, where the original photographer was standing.

One thing you might notice as you pan around in an image space is that the closer you get to any given photo the more detail you will see come into focus (up to a point). Photosynth uses a technique that only displays as many pixels as you need at your current zoom level. This benefits internet viewing because you don't have to download all the data before the image can be displayed. An offshoot of Photosynth was used in the recent Hard Rock Cafe Memorabilia site where you can view memorability from any of their locations online. The cool factor in this is that these are not just normal photos. They all allow you to zoom in ... and in ... and in ... and in. The gallery is made up of hundreds of extreme close up and high res photos all seamlessly pieced together by the software. And then all streamed to your browser at just the right resolution, no more and no less. Both applications are very cool to play around with and I can only imagine what sort of technologies might spawn from this in the future.

Imagine, one day we might have computers scanning the Internet for photos of similar locations and automatically piecing them together to build 3D environments which would let anyone view the location from virtually any angle and at various points in history. I'm sure eventually this sort of technology could also be improved upon to generate a more traditional 3D wire frame model that could be mapped to a virtual globe and let users explore it with photo realism. A self generating and updating 3D cyber world. The science fiction writers will probably have fun with that.

And speaking of fiction, Photosynth has already made an appearance in the popular CSI:NY television show where it was used to help the investigators rebuild the scene of a crime and determine who might have been in the right place at the right time to commit the crime. I don't know if Photosynth has actually been used yet to help in crime investigations, but it's an interesting idea.

One day Photosynth may join the crime fighting ranks for real, but for now it has joined the never ending flood of community based websites where you can publish your results and share them with family and friends. Next time you are on vacation take photos of everything you see and from ever angle in which you can see it. Photosynth works best if you can provide it with photos of various angles. As long as their are multiple points in each photo that can be matched up to the same points in another photos, then Photosynth can properly calculate the angles and build your scene. It works a little bit like camera tracking software used in the movie industry; the more distinctly matching points it can find between photos, the better it can map it to it's 3D coordinate system.

There is no telling how this technology will inspire some future inventor and then what amazing new technologies will unfold as a result. Invention usually builds upon ideas from past inventions, so only time will tell. For now just go and have fun connecting all your pixels together.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Microsoft Releases Pro Photo Tools v1.0

Microsoft released an interesting tool for photographers this past week. A photo metadata editing tool. Interesting.

Microsoft Pro Photo Tools v1.0

Upon installation it adds an entry to the right click menu of photos for easy access. Although I seem to have trouble opening multiple photos from the right click without closing the editor each time. However you can drag and drop multiple files into the thumbnail area with ease.

One nice feature is the ability to attach GPS data to older photos and view the location mapped to a Microsoft Maps view. Very much similar to the online Picasa Web photos.

The rest of the data fields seem pretty standard if you own Photoshop, GIMP, or any other higher end photo editor. I would eventually like to see this level of metadata straight from the OS file browser. But for now this is getting there. Perhaps we'll see these same features integrated into the next Windows 7 or a new release of Windows Live Photo Gallery.