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Flake reports that the Photosynth team has conjured dozens of potential uses, two of which look especially likely.

One is to integrate it more fully with Microsoft Virtual Earth, making it that tool that takes users to the next step in deep zoom. With Virtual Earth handling topography and aerial photography while Photosynth coördinates a wealth of terrestrial photographic material, the two applications could give rise to a kind of lightweight metaverse, to use the term that Agüera y Arcas invoked at TED.

Noting Photosynth’s facility with buildings and city squares, Seitz also envisions a “scaling up in a big way.” “We’d like to capture whole cities,” he says. Indeed, Agüera y Arcas and Stephen Lawler, general manager of Microsoft’s Virtual Earth project, announced in August 2007 in Las Vegas, at the annual hackers’ convention Defcon, that they’re planning a partnership. Once some relatively minor technical hurdles are cleared, Seitz says, “there’s nothing stopping us from modeling cities.”

As people create and store ever greater amounts of digital media, Photosynth might even enable users to “lifecast” their family photo albums. “Imagine if you could watch your kids grow up in your own house,” says Flake, “just from your photo collection.”

As such ideas percolate, the Photosynth team is hardly sitting still. Last summer the researchers released an online demo collaboration with NASA, and now they are working with the Jet Propulsion Lab to synth a small part of the surface of Mars.

One does wonder how far Microsoft is willing to bankroll this kind of geek-out. Then again, as Agüera y Arcas and Flake ask rhetorically, how does one put a value on this kind of technical achievement? For while Photosynth seems somewhat lacking in a clear path to market, it also seems wholly lacking in competition.

Jeffrey MacIntyre is a freelance journalist who writes widely on culture, science, and technology.

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Credit: Courtesy of Microsoft Live Labs

Tagged: Computing

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