How 3D imaging could change the way we take photographs forever

Movies in 3D cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce, and this is felt by moviegoers who pay the higher price to see them. Therefore it should follow that making 3D content is difficult and expensive.

But Israel-based Mantis Vision is allowing people to capture what their smartphone camera sees in real time, in 3D. The company sees its technology as being able to re-invent the photograph – it envisions people sharing 3D memories with their friends as if they were there at the time.

“We believe that 3D will be the next step of imaging, of content creation. The big use case is that you can capture moments in your life in 3D and share them,” Mantis Vision CEO Amihai Loven said.

And these images won’t require access to expensive and specialist equipment; they will come from smartphones and tablets.

The sensors combine colour footage  collected from the camera with infrared depth data to provide a 3D view

“Today 3D content is being produced by professional organisations. Tomorrow, and if you want a date for tomorrow it is early 2015, we are very close to a time where people like me and you, regardless of any expertise in anything will be able to take a mobile device a tablet or phone and capture very high-quality 3D data,” says Loven.

Or, as a statement on the company’s website puts it: “It’s about moving beyond static 3D models into dynamic 4D immersive experiences.”

It has taken nine years in the making and incorporates hardware and software that is able to detect the environment and create a create a 3D image from it – all from a smartphone. Mantis Vision means serious business as well, having previously partnered with Google on its Project Tango and released a new tablet with Flextronics that incorporates the technology.


3D mapping

Working on Project Tango led the Mantis team to see its tech embedded in a tablet and the overall aims of the project showed the potential use of 3D image capturing devices.

Google says: “What if you could capture the dimensions of your home simply by walking around with your phone before you went furniture shopping? What if directions to a new location didn’t stop at the street address? What if you never again found yourself lost in a new building? What if the visually impaired could navigate unassisted in unfamiliar indoor places?”

This 3D re-creation of the wider environment isn’t how Mantis sees itself using the tech but it gives an idea of what 3D can be done. The sensors combine colour footage collected from the camera with infrared depth data to provide a 3D view of what is happening in the world.

There is also huge potential for online retailers to use 3D content creation

The new tablet that came out of Project Tango has an eight-inch screen with a resolution of 1900 x 1200. It’s the dual image sensors on the back that make it stand out from other devices. It is only available to developers at present.

Loven says there has to be trade-off between the depth that the 3D can be captured in and the quality. The amount of frames per second that are captured will also make a difference to the final product. He said that even capturing one frame per second would give a 2D image more depth.

These factors all have to be balanced out with the battery power that a phone or tablet uses when capturing images.

Sharing in 3D

The question is, who needs it? Loven and Mantis believe that when we have 3D imaging available to us, then we will use it.

Loven says that when the first cameras were invented people soon demanded more detail; they wanted their images to be
able to move. He sees 3D as natural progression to that.

Now he wants to make sure 3D image creation gives us better ways to connect and communicate with loved ones.

“It will allow you to share experiences in a much more immersive way, so we define the need as an emotional connection, which is not met to a full level by 2D where you basically share information,” Loven says. “If you want to give more of the experience to share the 3D it will give you a much more significant way to see your sister, your child, or your wife, or
your friends. That’s where we are heading.”


Proving cynics wrong

The technology, at the moment, feels like it could be met with a lot of scepticism. When Vine was first introduced by Twitter critics took a cynical approach to what could be done with six- second videos – but how wrong the cynics were.

Mantis’ 3D capture, if it is done correctly, could fall into the same branch as Vine. The potential is there, but it depends on how it is presented to the customer.

The whole idea behind this new technology that enables new content and new services was to take the imaging world one step forward

Loven says everything about the technology comes down to the user’s experience and how they react to being able to capture the world around them in 3D. Because the technology is driven by how the individual sees things, “you cannot cheat the visual satisfaction levels,” he says. It makes developing the user experience into an ongoing task.

At present Loven sees the main market in allowing users to quickly capture their surroundings and then send them to someone on the other side of the world. But he says there is also huge potential for online retailers to use 3D content creation.

“Together with social networking, the whole idea behind this new technology that enables new content and new services was to take the imaging world one step forward to sharing of better emotional connecting data and experience,” he says.

But he concedes that he will ultimately not have the control of how, and if, it is adopted as “the real direction will come from the market.”


Images one and three courtesy of Google.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee on the future of the World Wide Web

How is the World Wide Web set to evolve, and how will that change how we use it? Factor finds out from the legend himself, Sir Tim Berners-Lee

“These are going to be instructions rather than predictions.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is giving a keynote presentation to a packed room at IT infrastructure tradeshow IP Expo Europe. His talk has been billed as being about the future of the internet, but after bounding onto the stage at a near run, this initial comment hints at a wider topic.

Remember that the future won’t just happen if we sit there and wait for it to happen, and you are the people who are actually going to make it happen

“I’m not going to give predictions because for me, I put out there what I want to see,” he says, grinning broadly at the assembled crowd.

“I think it’s really important to remember that the future is something we will. Remember that it won’t just happen if we sit there and wait for it to happen, and you are the people who are actually going to make it happen, are going to build it.”

This isn’t normally how these sorts of talks go, particularly when the speaker is someone classed as a ‘futurist’. But this isn’t anyone normal; this is the inventor of the World Wide Web – a man who has done more to change our lives than any other one individual alive today. If anyone is allowed to give instructions about building the future, it’s him.


Starting with a memo

Berners-Lee starts by talking about the inception of the web, on the basis that this will “put things in perspective”. It quickly turns out he’s right, as the story of the web’s invention is not only interesting but provides a lot of pointers towards its future development.

“This year is the 25th anniversary of when I first wrote a memo about the World Wide Web,” he says, describing what must be one of the most historically significant memos ever created.

“I was working there at CERN – very cool place. I had this idea, this itch that I wanted to fix this awful confusion of documentation systems. I could make this really cool system which would integrate them all, it would be decentralised.”

This year is the 25th anniversary of when I first wrote a memo about the World Wide Web

His idea would take the internet and make it the connected, accessible world we are used to, but at the time “nobody really sort of picked up on it”.

A year and a bit later, however, Berners-Lee’s boss Mike Sendall gave the go-ahead, along with the approval to buy a NeXT cube to develop it on.

“The NeXT machine was just being produced by Steve Jobs’ company when he left Apple – very, very cool machine, great big development environment,” explains Berners-Lee.

Sendall would die of cancer in 1999, after which his copy of the original memo was found.

“In the corner of it in his handwriting on the cover: ‘vague, but exciting’,” says Berners-Lee, looking out into the crowd. “If the people that are working for you have vague but exciting ideas, if you can find them a bit of space that’s a really important way to run a company.”

Internet importance

The very nature of the internet played a vital role the way the web evolved, something which Berners-Lee believes is vital for its future development.

“One of the things which is really important is the idea of a platform,” he says. “At that point the internet had just become available at CERN, so I could sit down – I could do it now with this computer, plug it into an ethernet, plug it into the Wi-Fi, write a program and that program could then communicate over the internet.”

This concept of a platform is key because of its lack of attitude.

“The internet is a program that I could use to connect to another computer without worrying about what’s in between. But that not-worrying was mutual – I didn’t have to worry about how the internet worked, and the internet didn’t worry about what I was doing with it.”

To keep net neutrality means keeping the internet like this – impactful without attitude

While a simple concept, this provides the fundamental basis for why the internet has been so important.

“I could just write a program, put it on different computers and those computers would talk to each other over the web,” explains Berners-Lee. “That’s really, really important.”

So important, in fact, that we need to fight hard to keep it this way.

“Part of that is why we need to keep fighting for net neutrality, to keep net neutrality means keeping the internet like this – impactful without attitude. Impactful without censure.”


A programmable future

Having witnessed a whole host of updates to how it can be modified, the web we have now is very much in the realm of the programmer.

“When you come to a web page now, basically every web page is a computer. So when you’re building a website, every web page needs a programmer,” he says. “When I grew up my parents were working on the first computers, and what they realised that was really exciting was that when you program a computer it’s up to your imagination – the computer is not limiting you.”

Berners-Lee argues that the same is true of web pages now, and that emerging technology will take this in whole new directions.

“Because it’s a computing platform, you could now build a peer-to-peer computing platform using [open-source real-time communications platform] WebRTC, with real-time communication,” he says. You could build all kinds of things on top of that because it’s programmable. The value of it is what you can build on top of it, and what is sort of meta exciting is excitement about the future platforms that people will build on that.”

The time of AI

Turning his attention to artificial intelligence, Berners-Lee argues that it was, more or less, already here.

“Yes, you don’t have a completely human-like assistant helping you with everything,” he says. “But originally, 20 years ago they taught in schools that there are things that people can do and things that computers can do.

“Computers can do calculations; computers can do lots of data. People can do intuitive things like music and play chess. People can do things which need really sort of very powerful parallel processing, like driving a car, which is the sort of thing that computing can never do.

A large number of those things which were up there as challenging for artificial intelligence actually have quietly gone by”

“Ok, hello? A large number of those things which were up there as challenging for artificial intelligence actually have quietly gone by. AI has done that.”

In the future, Berners-Lee sees AI dominating communications.

“As the machines get more powerful, and in something like financial trading in a lot of companies the work is all done by machines. The machines are making the trading decisions, the machines are basically running the company. So that means that communication out there is largely going to be machine communication – it’s going to be data.”


Making data work

Data is one of the most significant features of our online future, a fact which is going to have wide-ranging impacts. But a focus on certain aspects of data has resulted in concerns that could block beneficial uses of data in the crusade for privacy.

“You get this push-back: ‘if this data about me, they’re making money from it, then shouldn’t I get some of that money?’ That is so wrong-headed,” says Berners-Lee. “They can do this very good targeted advertising, but you know what? Targeted advertising is not the whole of the future of the world, and that data which they’ve got about you is actually not very valuable to them compared to how it’s valuable to you as a person.”

I would like us to build a world in which I have control of my data, I own it

Berners-Lee envisions a change in way data is controlled so that it comes back into the hands of its owner.

“I would like us to build a world in which I have control of my data, I own it. Yeah, I could sell it to you, if it’s worth it, maybe I’ll sell it to you, maybe I won’t, we can negotiate a price for it to be used for advertising,” he says.

“But more importantly I will have control of, access to and legal ownership of all the data about me so we will be able to write really neat applications which take that. We’re going to write apps which take data from all different parts of my life and my friends’ lives, my family’s life that will really help me live life in a more healthy way, really help me find presents for nephews and nieces.

Access vs privacy

When it comes to the privacy argument, Berners-Lee takes a balanced view.

“There are people at the moment who are saying ‘privacy is dead, get over it’. I don’t agree with that,” he says. “I think that any people in practice – think about you, your family, your group, your organisation, your company – you function by having a data wall around you. So I think that the idea that privacy is dead is hopelessly sad.”

He stresses to developers in attendance the importance of building systems that allow privacy, but highlights the need for access by particular individuals when needed, such as in a healthcare situation.

I think that the idea that privacy is dead is hopelessly sad

“There’s a lot of really interesting cases like healthcare where the data about me, which will allow me to be taken care of rapidly if I’m in a car accident, that is really, really crucial,” he explains.

However, he believes the best solution will make such access accountable.

“We make tracking something you do on people who use data,” he says. “So if I’m a doctor and I look into your file, you get to know that I have because my access to your file is tracked. That’s called an accountable system.”

He proposes that this could also allow mass use of health data to research the use of drugs for new treatments, on the basis that people would not mind having their file accessed if they were notified of the purposed and asked permission.

Such a system could also aid the trust of law enforcement, where access to data is something that is required.

“If I’m working for the police, if I’m working for the armed forces, why don’t we build an accountable system where yes, you get the ability to do quite extreme things which violate privacy because sometimes if you’ve got to save a life, sometimes if you’ve to stop a heinous crime, sometimes you’ve got to have a lot of power,” adds Berners-Lee.


Data democracy

Perhaps most interestingly, Berners-Lee sees a turnaround in the way people see and use data as the balance of privacy and access is addressed. In particular, he thinks it can be used to vastly improve the democratic process.

Addressing the developers in the audience, he says: “Can you think of a better democratic tool that you can use on the web? Can you think of a way of, for example, having a debate between the parties, between the candidates where instead of just yelling at each other on the stage for twenty minutes, they go into a session where their arguments are dissected and where people can refer them to the facts, and where people working for each party can settle arguments about particular facts that were quoted? And the politician can then apologise and retract it if they got it wrong or they’ve been misinformed.”

“We need a much better informed debate about that sort of thing – even how we do our education, how we organise our schools. We need a better democratic platform.”


Featured image courtesy of Вени Марковски. First and third inline image courtesy of Paul Clarke. Second inline image courtesy of cellanr.