Going 3D the Israeli way

HumanEyes 3D creates a stereoscopic photograph by taking the pictures from a single digital camera which has been swept over a scene in continuous mode, and can even create a 3D picture of a complete 360 degree panorama.The virtual world …

HumanEyes 3D creates a stereoscopic photograph by taking the pictures from a single digital camera which has been swept over a scene in continuous mode, and can even create a 3D picture of a complete 360 degree panorama.The virtual world of computers is finally catching up with reality and going three-dimensional, and an Israeli company is pioneering a simple approach to creating 3D content using a regular digital camera.

Until now, anyone who wanted to take a 3D photograph needed many cameras in different positions to take pictures of a scene from various angles. All these views of the scene were then merged to create a stereoscopic image, which means that, just like in real life when we look at something, each eye sees a different image and the brain combines the two to create a three-dimensional picture, without having to wear 3D glasses.

HumanEyes does away with all these cameras. In 2001, the company licensed technology developed by Professor Shmuel Peleg at the Hebrew University for taking 3D images with just one camera. The software that HumanEyes developed, called HumanEyes 3D, creates a stereoscopic photograph by taking the pictures from a single digital camera which has been swept over a scene in continuous mode, or has taken a number of still pictures of the scene. It can even create a 3D picture of a complete 360 degree panorama – something that could never be achieved before with multiple cameras.

Using only one camera, “the software calculates the virtual places where [multiple] cameras would be taking pictures if they existed,” HumanEyes CEO and founder Gideon Ben Zvi told ISRAEL21c. The software pretends that there are many cameras photographing the scene, and creates the views that each of these pretend cameras would see, merging them to create a three-dimensional rendering of the scene. HumanEyes also allows the photographer to then create a picture of the scene from a different angle or zoom in on one particular place without having to re-take new photographs.

The resulting picture, which is made up of tiny, one-pixel-wide slices of selected views of the scene, is printed out and a special lenticular plastic sheet put over it so each eye sees a different image, and the viewer sees a 3D picture. Now the image can also be seen on the new 3D monitors, such as those from Sharp, that are just hitting the computer market.

HumanEyes’ first application was aimed at graphic artists working in the packaging and advertising markets. One of the first to test the software in 2003 was Coca Cola, which used it to design vending machines with 3D pictures of Coke cans.

Coca Cola reported an average increase in sales of 11 percent from the ten 3D vending machines installed in various locations in Chile. Other customers include Dove soap, which created a 3D point-of-sale advertising campaign; Captain Morgan rum, which used HumanEyes to create 3D adverts on bus shelters in the US; Segafredo, the Italian coffee chain, for an advertising campaign in Italy, and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf chain, for 3D storefront displays.

HumanEyes’ activity in this graphics market has moved from what Ben Zvi calls “supporting projects” such as working with Coca Cola and Dove soap, to selling its products directly to graphic design and printing companies to create 3D. This is now one division of the company, and a second division has been set up for the newest trend: 3D computer monitors, laptops and other screens, including mobile phones.

Sharp was one of the first to launch a 3D desktop display, and in August 2004, HumanEyes and Sharp announced a partnership to offer everyone who buys a Sharp Actius RD3D display in 2004 a 30-day trial version of HumanEyes 3D Lite software, with the option to upgrade to the full version, to create 3D images with their digital camera to view on the desktop.

Despite the fact that almost four years have passed since HumanEyes was founded, no single-camera “shoot-and-click” 3D competitors have appeared on the scene. One player in the field who is also working with Sharp is the Australian company, DDD (dynamic digital depth). Its software converts existing 2D photos to 3D, but has several limitations: it can only guess the depth of the picture and it doesn’t offer panoramic 3D or conversion of a series of pictures from one camera into an image that can be manipulated.

Ben Zvi has a history of successful imaging-related start-ups: He was a founder of the optical character recognition company Ligature and WizCom, the developers of the Quicktionary hand-held translation pen. HumanEyes has raised $5 million to date from, among others, BRM, the Israeli venture capital fund behind the success of firewall inventors Checkpoint; Benny Landa, the founder of digital printing pioneer Indigo and now strategic advisor to Hewlett Packard; and the Van Leer family fund.

HumanEyes, which is based in the High Tech Village of the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus in Jerusalem, has offices in New York and Osaka, Japan, is now in the enviable position of having enough money in the bank, and doesn’t need to raise any more funds.

This money will go towards not only the marketing and sales of current products, but also the adaptation of HumanEyes technology to all the 3D displays. .

“Sharp sold 1.8 million 3D mobile phones in Japan in only 2 months,” he says. “Everyone is now looking into it. People believe it is going to transform the world of monitors. When color monitors replaced black and white monitors they cost five times more. Today, 3-D monitors cost only 20 percent more to produce than color monitors. The manufacturers believe they are going to replace the standard monitors soon.”

Ben Zvi believes it will become something everyone will have to have, even if they don’t have a 3D content creation application. “It’s like buying a mono radio for your car,” he says. “Even though you only listen to news, you want to hear it in stereo.”