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15 September 2008

3D Phototours for the Rest of Us

The folks from Microsoft were in the office last week and during the course of their presentation they mentioned a new project from Microsoft Live Labs called Photosynth.

First of all, “Microsoft Live Labs?” I guess they have stopped trying to differentiate themselves from Google anymore. The presenter extolled the virtues of the technology and claimed how simple it was to automatically reconstruct a three-dimensional space from a collection of photos of a place or an object. In laymen’s terms, it allows you to create a wicked cool 3-D version of any space simply by snapping 2-D digital photos.

I was skeptical to say the least. I have seen a number of photo-stitching options that really just create a panorama and don’t offer a truly 3-D output. In a previous life, I actually worked for a company that attempted to monetize all of the “brand-less” items on a music video, movie or TV set via virtual tours. Each set took nearly an hour and half to shoot with a rare and expensive gyroscope camera.

Alright, so I watched all of the video clips of Photosynth in action on YouTube and it was about time to conduct some primary research of my own. I grabbed our Nikon D40 SLR and went into the courtyard here at 1 Campus and literally just started snapping photos rotating clock-wise 15-20 degrees with each shot while panning from ground to sky. I didn’t even use a tripod and the whole exercise took less than 2 minutes. I pulled out the flash card and downloaded all of the pictures onto my computer. I then went to Photosynth.net downloaded the plug-in/synth creator and then the magic happened instantaneously. The program automatically figured out how to stitch all of the photos together and turned them into a 3-D model in which you could navigate as if you were physically eating lunch with me. Text can’t describe how easy, cool and powerful this could be. Take a look:

When I was listing my house, I remember choosing between all of the photos the listing agent took of our house when we put it on the market. He had already taken multiple photos of each room at different angles. Had he known about Photosynth, he would have been one step away from making a virtual tour presentation of my home. . This could easily be the first program that will make creating virtual tours something EVERY agent can do.

Now it still is in “Lab” state as it doesn’t yet work with a Mac (typical Microsoft) and you don’t have the option of making the output private. Also, it is very picky with flash/non flash based pictures and it does have some problems stitching photos when you don’t shoot room corner to room corner. The biggest concern is that Photosynth requires a plug-in. Consumers are skeptical these days about adding anything to their computers forfear of viruses. Microsoft does claim that they had this embedded in the Summer Olympics web site and the penetration is incredibly high already.

I encourage anyone who reads this post to try it once. I guarantee you will be hooked. The key will be taking it from cool functionality to ROI based real estate application.

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