Mining Flickr to Build 3D Models of the World

Microsoft’s PhotoSynth tool is jaw-droppingly awesome. But, because it’s a Microsoft project, the technology is unlikely to appear on some of your favorite non-Microsoft online apps, like Google Maps or Flickr.

However, our friends at ReadWriteWeb stumbled across a very similar tool — at least in terms of the end result — developed by the University of North Carolina in conjunction with Swiss university, ETH-Zurich.

The team has developed a method for creating 3D models by pulling in millions of photographs from Flickr and using some fancy algorithms to generate 3D models of local landmarks. Perhaps even more impressive the results can be generated using a single computer in under a day.

Project lead Jan-Michael Frahm touts the project’s efficiency saying, “our technique would be the equivalent of processing a stack of photos as high as the 828-meter Dubai Towers, using a single PC, versus the next best technique, which is the equivalent of processing a stack of photos 42 meters tall — as high as the ceiling of Notre Dame — using 62 PCs. This efficiency is essential if one is to fully utilize the billions of user-provided images continuously being uploaded to the internet.”

While the results are cool and would make an impressive addition to any number of geo-based services, more serious use cases include helping disaster workers get a better idea of where they’re headed and the extent of damage.

So far the researchers have released a movies demonstrating the technique on landmarks in both Rome (get it? built in a day…) and Berlin, and the results are impressive. For more information on how the process works, check out the UNC website.

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