Some 17,000 people have joined the waiting list for the beta software, according to Pishevar. Visitors will be able to upload and convert their own photos into 3-D models and store them in a gallery area, and Freewebs members will be able to embed the models in their own Web pages.
Pishevar says that Freewebs approached Hoiem about commercializing his work because it “aligns very much with our vision of transforming the kinds of personal media that can live on a visual Web page. It’s one of those technologies that changes the way you see things in the world and what you think is possible.”
Eventually, Hoiem’s work could change the way robots use computer vision to navigate their way through obstacle-strewn environments. Hoiem says that he and his colleagues are also working on ways to create more-complicated 3-D models by processing multiple photographs of the same area. In addition, they’re working on the idea of animating 3-D scenes such as busy streets by predicting the directions pedestrians and cars would have moved in the several seconds following the click of the photographer’s shutter.
Because the Fotowoosh models adhere to a standard 3-D format, VRML, they could easily be imported into other 3-D applications, such as modeling software; immersive virtual worlds, such as Linden Lab’s Second Life; and “virtual globe” systems, such as Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth. The ability to create texture-mapped 3-D buildings inside these worlds from a few two-dimensional photos would be a big advance over current methods, which involve constructing a 3-D model from blueprints or other data, then manually pasting photographs onto each side. “That’s just not scalable,” says Pishevar. “But if you have people uploading billions of 3-D pictures from around the world … then you could get to the point of building applications” that use the models to automatically fill out landscapes of virtual Earths.
Pishevar says that Freewebs will eventually provide an application programming interface, or API, that software developers can use to create just such “mashups.” Asked whether his company is already in discussions with the likes of Google or Linden Lab, Pishevar is coy: “We can’t actually comment on that right now.”