Creating a Virtual 3-D World: Inside PhotoCity from UW and Cornell

4/23/10

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a bunch of augmentations that they couldn’t do in the real world.” Eventually, Popovic sees the game becoming like a combination of Second Life and social media, where people can create avatars and wander around in a virtual recreation of their own cities, and stores or restaurants can include advertisements or specials on their virtual storefronts.

The Photo Tourism software was licensed to Microsoft in 2006 to make Photosynth, a free program that lets consumers input their own overlapping pictures of a given site to make a 3-D model (based on one person’s pics).

Popovic won’t say what possible commercial applications might be in the works for PhotoCity, but it seems clear that many gaming companies might want to get their hands on something like this. Intel provided funding for some of the project, and while it doesn’t own any rights to the finished software, Popovic said the company is interested in the graphics possibilities.

PhotoCity is unique from other photographic recreations out there, Popovic said. For example, Google Maps’ Street View works along the same lines, recreating a pedestrian’s eye view of city streets, but that program is entirely based on pictures taken by Google’s vans, so it is limited by their manpower. “Wherever the van goes, they have the data. When it doesn’t go, there is no data,” Popovic said.

And Photosynth, of course, operates on similar ideas, but “it doesn’t go viral, it doesn’t have that competitive incentivization to complete the reconstructions that we’re trying to build,” he said.

Rachel Tompa is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. She can be reached at rmtompa@yahoo.com. Follow @

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