Monday, April 19, 2010

The talk I missed

It was last Tuesday when there was an interesting sounding talk "Building  Rome in a Day" in the afternoon. I wanted to go but instead that morning I was in a surgical care prepared for an operation - you can see me with surgeons initials on my cheek after we both agreed that it is really my right side and he will be performing surgery in that side of my nose. Somebody told me that it is really assuring that doctors are signing there work. Since it is inside I cannot tell if it is a masterpiece or not, I certainly still do not feel all benefits we hoped for. But a question still remains - is colonoscopy signed also? The surgeon said he will be done in 15 minutes and the anesthesiologist said I will be awake 15 minutes later. I took a proper nap afterwards and woke up only good two hours after this surgery. So I may say that I overslept the talk I was interested in.
Still I looked up what it is about "Building Rome in a Day". The talk was presented by Noah Snavely, assistant professor in Computer Science Department, Cornell University. His research interests are in computer vision and computer graphics, and in particular in recovering 3D structure from large community photo collections for use in graphics and visualization. 
The project he was giving a talk about is being developed by the team whose other members are Sameer Agarwal, Ian Simon, Steven Seitz and Richard Szeliski.
There are so many people taking pictures of Rome. If one clicks search term Rome in Flickr, then search will give about two million answers. Quite a choice! And I never entered my photos of Rome in Flickr. This actually reminded me that I never sorted them after downloading on my laptop. I looked them up and choose some for posting here. What these guys are doing is harvesting photos on web and then making 3D reconstruction of entire city.
This is how I saw Coliseum, thousands of other people have pictures of it from a thousand different angles.

 When all these pictures are combined then computer can do a ">3D reconstruction of Coliseum.

This new system is called Photo City. The original idea got dubbed as Photo Tourism and now it is commercialized by Microsoft. (This makes me a little sorry that hyperbolic plane can be crocheted but not commercialized on computers.) Researchers actually are trying to make this system to become a social game when teams can compete. Actually the first game is ending tomorrow between Cornell University and University of Washington about reconstructing campuses.
So far these reconstructions are more like a drawings (at least the ones I looked up in connection with their paper Building Rome in a Day

May be some day this social game will extend to add mood to these 3D pictures - whether it is walking across a bridge at night, seeing Campo di Fiore on a very rainy day or to capture finally some sunshine in Rome.
So far computers have not reached that amazing ability shown by Stephen Wiltshire who draw a 16-foot panoramic view of Rome after taking one helicopter ride above the city. I was in Rome at the time when I was writing my book, so some of pictures taken there were used to show some mathematics in architecture of famous buildings like this double spiral staircase in Vatican museum.

     But some places from that trip I even do not want to see reconstructed like the enormous summer residence of Roman emperor Hadrian - Villa Adriana. I like it as it is - this reminder that all your wealth and power one day will be only ruins. May be he had that thought himself when shortly before his death Hadrian wrote this poem (in Latin but I will quote its version in English):

Roving amiable little soul,
Body's companion and guest,
Now descending for parts
Colourless, unbending, and bare
Your usual distractions no more shall be there...

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