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Computers Turn Flat Photos Into 3-D Buildings

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3D reconstruction of the Colosseum in Rome, built as part of the Rome in a Day project, which used 2,106 images and 819,242 points.

Rome in a Day Project

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but in cyberspace it might be.

Computer science researchers at the University of Washington and Cornell University are deploying a system that will blend teamwork and collaboration with powerful graphics algorithms to create three-dimensional renderings of buildings, neighborhoods and potentially even entire cities.

The new system, PhotoCity, grew from the original work of a Cornell computer scientist, Noah Snavely, who while working on his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Washington, developed a set of algorithms that generated three-dimensional models from unstructured collections of two-dimensional photos.

The original project was dubbed Photo Tourism and it has since been commercialized as Microsoft’s Photosynth service, making it possible for users to upload collections of photos that can then be viewed in a quasi three-dimensional montage with a Web browser.

However, Photosynth collections are generally limited to dozens or hundreds of photos. The researchers wanted to push — or “scale” — their technology to be able to handle tens of thousands or even millions of photos. They also wanted to use computer processing power to transform the photos into true three-dimensional images, or what they refer to as a “dense point cloud.”

From The New York Times
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