Google AI Project Recreating Historical Streetscapes in 3D

When this caught my eye I got really interested. Google AI is launching a website titled rǝ which reconstructs cities from historical maps and photos. You might have seen the underlying tool last month but this productizes it a bit. What I find compelling about this effort is the output is a 3D city that you can navigate and review by going in back in time to see what a particular area looked like in the past.

Of course, Scottsdale, my town, is not worth attempting this on, but older cities that have seen a ton of change will give some great inside into how neighborhoods have changed over the past century.

Street level view of 3D-reconstructed Chelsea, Manhattan

Just take a look at the image above, it really does give the feel of New York back in the ’40s and earlier. People remember how a neighborhood looked, but recreating it in this method gives others key insights into how development has changed how certain areas of cities look and act.

This tool is probably more aimed at history professors and community activists, but as we grow cities into smarter, cleaner places to live, understanding the past is how we can hope to create a better future. I’d love to see these tools be incorporated into smart city planning efforts. The great part of all this is it is crowdsourced, open-sourced, and worth doing. I’m starting to take a deeper dive into the GitHub repository and look how the output of this project can help plan better cities.


Smart Cities and Digital Twins Will Be Built Using Smart Phone Cameras

I’ve spent years trying to build worldwide building datasets for Smart City and Digital Twin applications. I’ve tried building them using off-the-shelf data providers that give you COLLADA files, I’ve tried using APIs such as the Mapbox Unity SDK and buying buildings one by one to fill in gaps. None of these solutions have the resolution needed to perform the types of analysis needed to make better choices for cities and development potential. How to create real 3D cities with enough resolution has been out of our grasp until now.

I’ve been following Pixel8 for a while now and it is clear that crowdsourcing these models is going to be the only way forward. Over 10 years ago, Microsoft actually had this figured out with their Photosyth tool but they never were able to figure out what to do with it. Only today are we seeing startups attack this problem with a solution that has enough resolution and speed that we can start seeing cities build highly detailed 3D models that have actual value.

Example stolen from Pixel8

It is still early days with these point cloud tools, but at the speed they’ve improved over the last year, we should be seeing their use more and more. Mixing the data from smartphones, lidar and satellite imagery can make large areas of cities mapped in 3D with high accuracy. Pixel8 isn’t the only company attempting this so we should see real innovation over the next year. Stay tuned!