Imagine taking hundreds of photos in the Rockies and being able to piece the images into a virtual re-creation of the peaks. With Microsoft's Photosynth, you can. Created by Blaise Agüera y Arcas, the software uses digital photos to construct 3-D environments called "synths." Agüera y Arcas created the first version in 2006, drawing on Seadragon--a data navigation technology he'd developed previously--and computer-vision research from Microsoft and the University of Washington.
In August, Agüera y Arcas and his team released a version of Photosynth that allows users to construct their own synths for the first time. The software runs on users' computers and includes algorithms that let them more easily pivot in 3-D space. It also allows them to post their synths online and discover other synths of the same or similar places. As users add synths of cities, stores, and homes, Agüera y Arcas says, the Photosynth site will be able to "enrich online 3-D mapping, shopping, real estate, and other immersive Web applications that involve real objects and places." --Brittany Sauser