It can make video games more realistic and buildings more energy efficient. They are driving to discover a model of the whole world.
"Here's a model of two floors of Corey Hall," says Professor Zakhor. "This is the fourth floor and this is the third floor."
It is the first model of an existing building, generated automatically, without human intervention. It is the work of a Cal Berkeley team led by Professor Avideh Zakhor.
Grad student Nicholas Corso dons a backpack brimming with lasers and cameras. As he hikes the hall, the lasers scan everything from floor to ceiling and the cameras capture a panorama.
"The idea," explains Professor Zakhor, "is that you wear a backpack, you walk inside the building. You're done. You push a button and out comes this model."
The model is textured (covered) with the photographs.
The team is also behind the technology that creates 3D views of major cities on Google Earth. So, why not fly into the buildings and not just around them? The outdoor version relies on GPS but you can't rely on GPS indoors. So, the team in the imaging lab combined a new breed of miniature laser with an inertial management unit (IMU) like the ones that guide missiles.
The IMU localizes the backpack, lasers generate the geometry, and cameras generate the texture map. All three are fused for precise navigation. Once it's turned on, there are four cameras snapping pictures simultaneously. As one laser looks left, another laser looks right. One looks at the floor and another looks at the ceiling.
The primary navigation laser accounts for yaw, which is what we do when we walk. Up front, the most sophisticated analog component ever devised, is a human walker. With this, you can walk stairways, caves and places where a robot just cannot roll.
"Yes." says Avideh Zakhor, "One day, you'll have a little pack of sensors on your belt. And, as you walk inside buildings, you collect data about everything. Every location in the universe, both indoors and outdoors will eventually be mapped and we'll have it all online. So, without ever going anywhere, you can see what everybody's interior looks like."