Futurology Math: Google Earth on steroids

Ok, a little bit of futurology for you…..
Every now and then I will put a few company’s products together and come up with some predictions about the near future, in terms of what products, services and technology will be needed or might emerge.

Today’s Equation:

Microsoft VirtualEarth + Photosynth + Vexel Inc + Seadragon =

Errrr……equals Microsoft?! The first two are Microsoft, the last two were acquired by them.

Seadragon were acquired by MS for their technology which allows for incremental streaming of images. So when you are zoomed out of an image, you have only streamed the low res parts, and as you zoom in, more and more detail of the section you can see is streamed to you.

Photosynth is a MS’ Live Labs project, which saw Seadragon and Washington Uni’s photo tourism project come together to create something really cool. From a bunch of photos taken around a similar area/building/tourist-spot, it uses some math to work out where all of the photos were taken in 3D space by identifying common ‘unique features’. All of this data then gets fed into a cool 3D environment in which you can move around photo-to-photo as if you were at the scene where they were taken.

Virtual earth is MS’ answer to Google Earth. It’s a web application (runs in the browser), like Photosynth, which follows their emerging strategy of making everything web-based from now on – so they can improve it easily and get people hooked. What’s interesting about Virtual Earth is not that it does terrain, 3D views or route finding; it’s that it combines Vexel Inc’s acquired technology to extrapolate 3D mesh and texture data from video footage. This makes MS’ 3D textured world much more realistic than Google’s with the video images pasted on the buildings, but also infinitely more scalable – as they can just keep flying planes with a video camera over cities to collect this 3D data.


Imagine a website where you can upload your holiday touristy images (errrr…Flickr?). As you upload them you type in where they were taken, perhaps being more specific by giving rough a longitude and latitude (a drop down small version of VirtualEarth). Maybe you flag certain photos that aren’t too personal as ‘public’. Now, MS has all these photos and enough raw data information to join the dots to integrate your photos directly into VirtualEarth itself; using Washington Uni’s feature finder to find photos in the database close to yours, using Vexel’s tech to help paste the photos as textures over the buildings in virtual Earth.

Imagine if the photos you uploaded as ‘public’ everyone could see? Microsoft wouldn’t need to fly another plane over New York, as long as there are tourists taking photos, VirtualEarth would be up-to-date!


2 Responses to Futurology Math: Google Earth on steroids

  1. Keith says:

    But tourists (especially in places like new york) take most of their photos looking along, or up…. planes take pictures looking down. I can’t really see the former being a replacement for the latter.

    Plus user submitted content will have to be *heavily* moderated… how long would it take before someone took a picture of the white house, photoshops “republicans suck c**k” on it, and posts it to the site? The site assumes that this is the usual paint scheme for the white house, and textures the model with the new slogan…

  2. Keith,
    I think in the case of the white house, there will likely be so many photos submitted that some sort of heuristic image comparison could be done as part of the upload process to be able to say “on aggregate this doesn’t normally appear here”, so therefor photos can be ranked and approved based on their ‘genericness’. The processing and ranking algorythm can be improved over time, much like DIGG to counteract ‘gaming’.

    Moderation would have to follow an automated approach to be scalable. For instance, to make sure the photos used to texture a building fit, a color heuristic can be tested to make sure the photos were taken in the same lighting or weather conditions. All of these image processing capabilities already exist.

    Having said this, for non public content without automated approval, users should be able to see their photoshop’d explitives over the White House… as they are the only people seeing it (although sharing with friends would be possible in a very web2.0 kinda way).

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