With Google Earth, users can “fly” from a satellite view of the planet to aerial views of their homes. But while the program can be customized to include, say, photos of storefronts or 3-D renderings of buildings, it provides no consistent experience at street level.
EveryScape, a startup in Waltham, MA, hopes to pick up where Google Earth leaves off, providing photorealistic streetscapes and even views inside buildings. The company plans to let users submit photos that it will integrate into a consistent 3‑D representation. Its revenues would come from retailers who want to add depictions of their stores’ interiors. CTO and founder Mok Oh, a computer scientist, says the company is betting that people want to explore the world from the ground level. “Getting there is not what you want,” he says. “Being there is what you want.”
The technology starts with panoramic photos taken by company photographers or contributed by subscribers, who use conventional digital single-lens reflex cameras. EveryScape’s servers construct a 3‑D environment that allows users to move from one panoramic perspective to the next. In a company demo, users can explore Union Square in San Francisco, enter Harry Denton’s Starlight Room, move through the lounge viewing it from different perspectives, and exit again for a dizzying look at the night sky above the Dewey Monument. Oh had already founded a business that used an earlier version of the technology to enable vivid virtual tours of high-end hotels and travel destinations. He now envisions expanding the idea to virtually reproduce the entire world.
Derek Hoiem, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, finds EveryScape’s technology promising. He says it would be better with more freedom of movement–if the user could walk down a virtual street rather than swiveling to explore a panorama and then moving forward a fixed distance to the next panorama. But he adds that the software gives users a good approximation of motion, and that they will find its immersive quality appealing.
EveryScape launched this fall, depicting parts of Aspen, Boston, Miami, and New York. Retail stores that pay for inclusion will be graphically rendered; users will enter the virtual stores, view merchandise, and click links to get to the stores’ Web pages. CEO Jim Schoonmaker says EveryScape plans to add more features, such as the ability to buy merchandise inside a store by clicking on a display item. EveryScape is likely to face competition from Google (see “Second Earth,” July/August 2007), but the search giant wouldn’t comment on its plans.