Ye olde style, conventional maps shown on Google Earth will soon be a relic if Austin Abrams, a PHD candidate at Washington University at St. Louis, Missouri, and his team had their way. They are working on a project to make Google Earth look “ALIVE”.
In this world of data changing at light speed, even technology can’t keep pace and what was yesterday is often too old to be useful. The satellite and aerial imagery shown while you browse Google Earth may be the world that was, and not what it is, at this very minute or hour.
Enter: Austin Abrams’ project, Live3D. The project leverages a massive database of constantly-updated webcams which stream in views from all over the world; it then uses that data to keep the virtual world of Google Earth alive and up to date.
Continuously drawing from AMOS images, Abrams’s web-based application Live3D (https://amos.cse.wustl.edu/live3d/) maps and models the 2-dimensional images from a web cam into a 3D model of the location. So if it’s snowing in Shimla, you might not see a clear sky while you use Google Earth to check the place out.
Austin Abrams developed a technique that replaces the normal ‘static’ facade of the virtual buildings, monuments, etc. which constitute Google Earth images with images from the Archive of Many Outdoor Scenes (AMOS) (https://amos.cse.wustl.edu/). AMOS was designed by the Media and Machines lab of Washington University in St. Louis in 2006, to ease and facilitate high quality research in the area of computer based vision. AMOS is an archive consisting of images that are captured regularly from web cameras that are publically accessible. The cameras used for building this dataset are carefully selected by a group of graduate students and 24-bit JPEG images from each camera are captured regularly using a customized web crawler that is designed to discard duplicate images and to record the capture-time.
Live3D is presented as a web interface. Head over to the Live3D website to begin. To setup Live3D you first need to outline a region of the webcam image by adjusting the corners of a polygon using the web interface. An adjacent window shows the Google Earth feed of the same location; outlined with its own polygon. The Live3D program then fetches the 2D image from the webcam and transforms it to fit on the 3D geometry of the Google Earth feed. After you map a few 2D regions from your webcam feed onto the 3D surface, Live3D can work backwards to deduce the location of the webcam (to within a few meters), making further regional assignments easier and quicker. Abrams and his team at Washington University have a few working examples of university campuses where you can actually see students walk across the surface of Google Earth feeds.
According to the researchers, Live3D would work particularly well for urban areas where the content would change frequently -- new flyovers, changing billboards, and so on. Though the technique needs refinement, the main constraint to overcome would be the quality of the webcam images as almost all webcams offer a low quality output.
Yet, the concept is sound and we wonder how long it will be before we see this option in Google Earth itself allowing you to see both static and real-time 3D models of the location you are looking at.