When we first heard about the NavVis system a couple of years ago, it was being developed for indoor navigation. Developed by researchers at the Technical University of Munich, it utilizes maps consisting of location-tagged photos of the hallways of buildings. In order to figure out where they are, users just take a photo of their surroundings using their smartphone, then the NavVis app matches that photo up with one in its map. Now, the technology has been expanded to the point that it could give Google Street View a run for its money.
In order to initially create its maps, NavVis utilizes a trolley that's equipped with two laser scanners and six cameras. As a human operator wheels that trolley through the area to be mapped, the scanners record the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the hallway (or room) while the cameras snap photos.
The result is a continuous 3D map of the area, overlaid with photos of every square inch of all the surfaces. In its navigation application, the system can first establish where the user is via their supplied photo, and then use on-screen directional arrows to guide them to their destination.
Now, however, it's also being used to allow people to virtually explore remote destinations via their computer – just like Google Street View. In a demonstration of the technology, NavVis recently teamed up with the Deutsches Museum in Munich to create an interactive map of its currently-running exhibition on shipping. According to NavVis co-founder Georg Schroth, his company's system has several advantages over Google's.
"Their trolley uses a single camera that rotates around the principal point of the lens," he told us. "Hence, the operator who pushes the trolley either has to crouch or move out of the field of view for every single panorama they are recording. Therefore, with about 20 seconds per panorama, mapping an extensive indoor environment requires a huge amount of time if you want a panorama every 1 to 2 meters. With our patented camera head, the six cameras are assembled in a way such that the trolley operator is in their blind spot and therefore not visible. Hence 360-degree panoramas can be continuously recorded while moving the trolley."
Additionally, the HTML5-based NavVis IndoorViewer interface allows administrators to add informational content to various points on the map, which can then be accessed by users. This interactive feature also lets users do things like obtaining measurements between different points in the building (which could be handy for people such as architects), and getting on-screen directions to specific areas.
Finally, the data recorded with the trolley stays with the building owner, to use and augment as they wish.
The NavVis map of the Deutsches Museum's shipping exhibition is online now, and you can try it out for yourself. Plans call for other upcoming shows at the museum to be presented in the same fashion.