Photosynth is Released and Moves to Virtual Earth

smith tower synth

Live Labs has released Photosynth, the 3D-esque photo collection viewer that it first tech-previewed in 2006 (Radar post). With this release any Vista or XP user running FireFox or IE can create, view, and share Synths (Mac support is planned). I suggest exploring the Synths. There are some amazing ones available like Smith Tower in Seattle (home to the Photosynth team), Macchu Picchu and even scenes from World of Warcraft.


There are several controls and views associated with Synths. The 3D leaf brings you to a view where you zoom through the Synth either by clicking them or with arrows at the edges (shown above). In this view you will occasionally see a ring appear you can use that to rotate that view. From here you can also see the point cloud of images, which on quality Synths will reconstruct the original structure (to get this view use the Crtl button). The +/- controls will advance you though the pics. The play button will move through the photos in chronological order in a timed fashion (you can also use “.” to advance one at a time, use “;” to go backwards). The dotted leaf takes you to the photview which let’s you zoom in on any individual photo and really take advantage of the Seadragon image streaming technology (show above).

pic view

You’ll have to download some code from Photosynth to view and create Synths. The install includes an ActiveX control for viewing in IE, a Firefox extension and the Synth creation software. After getting an account on their site you are ready to make a Synth! Making a Synth is fairly painless. Simply click “Make a New Synth” on the site and your new desktop software will open. Point it at your photos, name it and the software will do the rest. There are two things happening right now. One, all of your photos are being uploaded to their community site (all Synths are public). In parallel your Synth is being created on your machine. It generally takes longer to upload your photos than to make the Synth (this seemed to be true for me). Both of my Synths were done in under an hour (on an older laptop running XP); it used to take days on a cluster to get it done. Microsoft is using your machine to do the heavy lifting — very smart!

There’s an art to making a Synth, one that I apparently have no talent for as none of mine have turned out very well. You’ll notice that all Synths have a “Synthy” percentage attached to them. The higher the number (up to 100%) the more pictures were used to create the core Synth. I tried making two (one of my house and one of an object) neither had a high Synthy value. Photosynth depends on the texture of the objects to construct a Synth. I do not know if the problem was the lack of texture, my camera, or the photographer (there’s a guide which can help you).

Choosing the license for your Synth can be done via a dropdown box. It can be licensed under Creative Commons. The team hopes that the CC licenses get used. after you create your Synth you can geolocate it on a map. It’s a long way from integrated with Live Maps, but it’s a start. You can also embed Synths.

Photosynth’s release is bringing on a number of personnel moves. Blaise Ag├╝era y Arcas was the architect of the Live Labs and Photosynth. He founded Seadragon and it was their technology that made Photosynth possible. Blaise will be moving to work for Erik Jorgensen (who used to run the Virtual Earth team and now runs all of MSN) as the MSN Architect. Blaise was also just awarded a TR35 award this week — congrats! We can expect Synths to show up throughout the MSN network (this could be a big boon to MSNBC).

David Gedye, the Principal Group Manager, and the other members of the Photosynth team are moving to the Virtual Earth team. They will be working in the 3D Imagery group (Radar post) so we can expect some Synthing of the Birds Eye view images (I hope).

Live Labs’ release of Photosynth as a product is very significant for Microsoft. Google has long been praised for its integrated research and product development approach while Microsoft has acknowledged that it could use MSR, its research arm, more efficiently. Live Labs, led by Gary Flake, filled with researchers and championed by Ray Ozzie, is one of the ways that Microsoft is trying to bring MSR over to the product. It marks the first successful transition of one of their projects over to product.

Photosynth has two immediate futures. One lies as a standalone product where users will be able to construct 3D models of their homes and objects . The other lies as a backend technology that will be used to supplement Virtual Earth’s 3D efforts. Photosynth will have achieved its promise when these two paths are merged and our Synths are being used to populate their 3D world.

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