Tech Watch: the amazing world of depth-estimation photography
April 21 2018

There's nothing better than geeking out over new technology. Here at the Studio, we love to keep an eye on the fascinating developments that are going on in the world. It's exciting to be thinking about the kinds of products we'll be building, as well the sorts of challenges we'll be tackling, in the next ten to fifteen years.


In this new series, we're going to delve into the world of innovative technology and showcase some of the most exciting new projects. It'll be a chance for you to catch up on cutting-edge developments and maybe even find some inspiration for your next app idea. This week, we're going to be talking about a new tech that could revolutionise the world of imagery - depth-estimation photography.


What is it?

Have you ever dreamt of stepping into a photograph so you could relive a moment from the past? With depth-perception imaging, this fantasy might not be so far from reality.


New software called Monodepth - currently under development by computer scientists at UCL - is able to analyse the depth-of-field for every pixel captured by an image or video. This means it can map out scenes from images, potentially allowing other programs to render them into full 3D environments.


This is no simple task. Given that most images are made up of flat pixels, analysing the distance relationships between them well enough to be able to process them as believable 3D pictures is extremely complex. Most depth-perception technologies to date require that images be taken with at least two lenses in order to capture depth of field. In most cases, this requires specialist equipment.


Why is it exciting?

Monodepth won't just work on new photos - we can actually run existing images through the software to create 3D environments. It will be a while before the rendering technology is good enough, but the groundwork is set for you to be able to build realistic 3D worlds out of your old holiday snaps. That's pretty exciting!


We love the idea of sharing our memories not simply as images, but as immersive virtual-reality worlds. However, there are deeper applications to this technology. Depth-perception is crucial to development in fields such as robotics, as well as self-driving vehicles. It also could have applications in helping to reconstruct accidents or criminal incidents as moving three-dimensional spaces. Author Clément Godard - a PHD student at KCL - even believes the software may be able to be paired with 360-degree cameras to help power navigation systems or virtual reality gaming environments.


What stage is it at?

Monodepth currently runs accurately on desktop computers. However, developers are in the process of miniaturising it to run on smartphones and tablets. One day, you may be able to invite your friends into the photo you've just taken on your phone.


If you'd like to explore the world of 2D to 3D mapping right now, there are some interesting apps available today you can take a look at. Software like Autodesk helps you to render your 2D designs as 3D computer models, and Selva3D can help you render simple 2D images into 3D designs.


There's an exciting world of 3D world design out there just waiting to be explored. The question is, will you be the one to do it?

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