3-D maps without the glasses

| Contributing Reporter

A Washington University student project is bringing Google maps to life.

The Media and Machines Lab at the University has brought Project Live3D to the Internet. Project Live3D is an Internet application, accessed through www.projectlive3d.com, which uses webcams and Google Earth scenes to forge a correspondence between the 3-D world and 2-D images, allowing users to see images of international locations in 3-D in real time.

Austin Abrams, a doctoral student in computer science at the University, developed this application along with faculty advisor Robert Pless and with help from former graduate student Nathan Jacobs and undergraduate Jessica Graham.

The Washington University team finds webcams across the globe and uploads them to Project Live3D. So far, more than 17,000 webcams have been accessed and included in the website. It is up to users to recognize the locations shown by these webcams and match pixels from Google Maps images to the real world in 3-D.

“We don’t know where this web camera that we discovered is located, and we’d like to ask those questions. We might want to know, for example, where this pixel points to in the world,” graduate student and lead developer Abrams said. “So we ask users to help us out with this process.”

In order to execute the process of matching 2-D images to the 3-D world, users drag around a 2-D point and place it at a known location on the original image. Then they place it at the same location on the 3-D image. For instance, a user would put a red dot at the top of the Gateway Arch in a 2-D picture, and place another red dot on the top of the Arch in the 3-D image projected from the webcam.

Because webcams work in real time, users are able to see the 3-D images of international locations, such as the Gateway Arch, at the current point in time that they are viewing the website.

Buildings on the map will pop up in 3-D, and the textures will change on the map according to how the location currently looks. This provides interesting images of locations such as the Eiffel Tower, which can be seen throughout the day and night, or even surrounded by snow during the winter.

The Washington University team is also working on another project, the Archive of Many Outdoor Scenes, which is a collection of more than 1,000 webcams archived since 2006 that includes an array of outdoor scenes. As well as being able to see what certain famous locations look like, one can take a glimpse into the past and see what these locations looked like during different times of the day or different seasons over the span of several years.

Looking at Times Square in New York City, one is able to zoom in on Google Earth and read the billboard advertising Tobey Maguire in “Spiderman 3,” which was released in 2007. However, zooming in to the Times Square billboards on Project Live3D reveals an advertisement of this summer’s release “Sex and the City 2.”

Project Live3D is easy to use, as it is aimed for the general public’s engagement and use. So far, 2,768 points have been matched up, and 106 shapes, such as rooftops or windows, have been recognized.

“What motivated this project was that we wanted to attach some geography to webcams,” Abrams said.

The future of this application tentatively holds the integration of pan tilt cameras, which can move around according to what the user wants to see on the map.

Furthermore, Abrams is interested in how this program and the information found with it can contribute to environmental studies.