What’s happening with Virtual Earth 3D?
In July 2008 I published a blog post entitled Is a Microsoft 3D virtual world closer than we think? where I speculated about Microsoft possibly using Virtual Earth’s 3D abilities to build a Second Life competitor, I also supplied some links to reinforce the speculation not least to a comment from 3DVia developer Matt Baron who said:
"Microsoft and Google are taking a different approach [from that of Second Life] to the virtual world with their Virtual Earth and Google Earth products. First they are building the real world, and step by step they are coming closer to a fully immersive environment"
Liveside picked up on it too although the aforementioned Mr Baron replied to that post with the following comment that, in my opinion, contradicted what he had said earlier:
“How quickly misinformation spreads. My comment on Robert Scoble’s blog was pure conjecture and I have no inside knowledge of MS’s strategy in this arena.”
Today nearly a year on there hasn’t been in any new moves from Microsoft in the 3D arena but the lack of news has not dampened my conviction that they are planning something big in the not too distant future and I have since seen further “evidence” that only serves to heighten the intrigue. Namely:
3D world construction demonstration
Microsoft’s Chief Research Officer, Craig Mundie, gave a talk at Microsoft’s financial analysts meeting on 24th July 2008 (webcast available here) where he supplied the following choice quote :
“…what it does is it actually moves me into a 3-D world. And this world is something that Ray Ozzie and I, when we have talked about this, call first life. Many of you may be familiar with this second life idea where people are building a wholly synthetic world on the Web, but very few people really have an appetite to help build a synthetic world and then have avatars and other things in that environment. And it’s already begun to taper off a little bit.
We think that the idea of first life, where there’s a mirror world of 3-D that everybody can participate in constructing and maintaining and which gives us a navigational metaphor that’s completely consistent with the world we already live in would allow many more people to get into this environment and operate there.”
What follows is a stunning demo of a 3D world that has been constructed both from 2D photos (in much the same way as Photosynth does today but with much much smoother transitions and finer detail) and 3D software-built models in a manner that really does mirror the real world. The demo starts at approximately 19 minutes and is well worth a watch. (Incidentally I find Craig Mundie to be a very engaging speaker and when he’s showing off future-gazing stuff like this its well worth taking an hour or so out of your day to check out the full video.)
Chris Pendleton at mix
Virtual Earth Evangelist Chris Pendleton gave a talk at MIX09 (which I attended) about the new Silverlight map control and during QnA at the end of the session someone asked about where Birds Eye view was in the Silverlight map control to which Chris answered “We didn’t add it – we’ve got some other plans for that”. When quizzed further about 3D in the Silverlight map control Chris replied, very coyly, “We’re working on something…something big! Can’t tell you what!”. Make of that what you will. Go see the video at http://videos.visitmix.com/MIX09/T34F and fast forward to about 62 minutes to hear this little discussion.
Sneak peeks at 3D modelling using Aerial Photos
Long Zheng has posted a photo from a talk given by Virtual Earth team member Chris Sampson that appear to show how they are combining aerial photos with 3D models to provide near-photorealistic images of 3D objects such as buildings:
Also consider that in February 2008 Microsoft announced that they had acquired Caligari, a company that makes a 3D modelling program and they also have an ongoing partnership with 3DVia who produce a tool that allows one to build their own 3D model of an object and its clear that Microsoft are planning some big moves in the arena of 3D. If anyone has any more specific information than what I have here then I’d love to hear about it!