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Photosynth: Microsoft invents time travel... sort of

Microsoft Live Labs has added British landmarks to Photosynth, which builds mind-bending 3D models out of photographs and lets you zoom around in space... and time

Developed by Microsoft Live Labs, Photosynth is a mindblowing three-dimensional photo mapping... thing. Hundreds of photos from different cameras of a particular space are overlapped, allowing you to zoom around that space with the flick of a wrist and scroll of a finger. Opinion is divided here at Crave between those those who just don't get it, and those tempospatially-aware future-minds who think it's amazing.

What's truly mindbending about Photosynth is that it isn't in fact 3D... it's 4D. The photospace is built from pictures taken by different people at different times, so when moving around within the space you are in fact moving about in pockets of time; like Doctor Who wandering around in the Matrix taking pictures on his 34th-century iPhone.

The technology is so far limited (if 'limited' is a word that should be allowed within fifty feet of this thing) to a preview model allowing you to explore a small number of collections, including oft-photographed tourist hubs such as the Piazza San Marco in Venice and Gyeongbokgung in South Korea. These showcase the time-travelling abilities of Photosynth, as people wash in and wash out of your screen on the tides of time.

The recent addition of British landmarks such as Blackpool Ballroom and Ely Cathedral allowed us to wander around spaces we have visited in the 'real' world, giving proceedings an extra visual jolt. Our image shows an archive photo overlaid on a recent picture of Trafalgar Square, but unfortunately doesn't capture the zoomy whooshy movement that required ninja-like timing with the Prt Scrn. Sadly, you may not be able to experience the zoomy whooshiness for yourself just yet: the current test version has graphics-card requirements that made even Crave's bad-boy supercomputers cry.

On a smaller scale, a model of Seattle artist Gary Faigin's studio space shows the possible application for you and me. Want to revisit your youth? No problem. Photosynth may one day aggregate every photo you were ever in, creating a visual model of your house, work and local pub, with your family and friends wandering in and out of your vision like chronologically displaced ghosts, recreating your life as a non-linear journey with no beginning and no end... Kind of puts Twitter into perspective, doesn't it? -Rich Trenholm