The ability to see maps in buildings and landscapes in 3D makes following along considerably easier than with just 2D. So researchers at the University of Washington have made generating 3D models of a given location dead simple using custom software and nothing more than a webcam timelapse video of the spot captured on a sunny day.
As the sun moves across the sky it creates ever-changing shadows on every surface -- from a towering skyscraper's silhouette on the ground, to subtle architectural details. And by analysing timelapse footage filmed across an entire day, the software's algorithm is able to extrapolate the shape and positions of every structure in frame.
To work its magic the program does need to know the exact position of the camera using GPS data so it can calculate how high the sun was in the sky, and the time of day for every single frame. But once a scene is processed it's able to spit out a 3D model that could then be added to existing databases such as the one used by Google in its map app. So eventually anyone who knows how to point a camera and hit record can make a contribution for the area where they live. [Washington University via NewScientist]