Getting the Whole Picture

Getting The Whole Picture

By Richard Hooker

The Internet is going to a look a whole lot different in a year or two.

That’s how Victor Ciccarelli sees it. As CEO of CQAdvantage, a computer and technology consulting firm, as well as a highly respected professional photographer, Ciccarelli has spent the last two years creating PhotoTudes, a technology that dramatically cuts the cost and labor associated with 3-D photography. With sharply reduced costs and effort, Ciccarelli sees a future where you can view almost any product for sale on the Web in all its three-dimensional glory, a future where viewing product images on the Web is like picking them up off a shelf and turning them around in your hands.

Low-cost, minimal effort 3-D photography will certainly help solve the most intractable problem in Web retailing: the unforgiving flatness of the medium. All products have a front, a back, bottom, top, and sides, and bricks-and-mortar stores encourage customers to pick products up and explore all these sides. But e-retail can only show flat, static images. And it just doesn’t cut it if you have a flat image of the front, a flat image of the back, a flat image of the right side, and so on. Certain products, like clothing or cars, are about the total, 180 degree picture.

The technology to do this has been around for decades. There’s nothing new about taking 3-D pictures and putting them on the Web. However, the process has always been laborious, time-consuming, and expensive. E-commerce is flat simply because it’s too expensive to be anything else.

Ciccarelli sat down two years ago and tried to solve that cost problem. It soon became apparent that the Gordian Knot in 3-D photography was time. Using turntables and multiple cameras, the best systems took over 10 minutes to snap all the pictures necessary to provide a complete, 3-D view — a veritable eternity in photographic terms. Even with the simplest subjects, this long stretch of time creates a mountain of photo retouching tasks. If the subject happens to be living and breathing, like a person modeling clothes, the headaches, retouching needs, and costs grow exponentially. Most of the inflated costs of 3-D photography were all eaten up in these retouching and photo preparation tasks.

If PhotoTudes was to become a reality, the entire key was reducing the time taken to snap the picture. Do that and most of the additional cost vanishes.

Back Rooms

Like many ideas, Ciccarelli’s began in a back room. In fact, in a whole bunch of back rooms.

Passing the time on a transcontinental flight with a magazine, Ciccarelli was struck by an article on how antiquities and artwork were moldering out of existence in museum back rooms. The harsh economic realities of the museum business meant that important historical and artistic artifacts were simply rotting away, waiting for the money and time to preserve them. Some of them were being photographed, but in flat, static images that did not truly reflect their importance or glory. Most of these artifacts would never be seen by anyone but a few museum employees, as invisible to the world as if they were buried in the desert.

“It really bothered me to think we were losing so much of our cultural heritage because we couldn’t get this information out to people,” said Ciccarelli in an interview. “And it came to me: I could make this work. I could design a system that would preserve, even if it’s just an image, the greatest artifacts in human history.”

Funding 100% of the development from CQAdvantage, Ciccarelli began experimenting with a number of computer systems, cameras, and robotics to unravel the time problem and make 3-D photography easier and less expensive. He planned to use this technology to save our cultural heritage from the ravages of time and neglect.

Breaking the Time Barrier

The final product of all this research turned out not to be an invention, but a series of innovations on existing technologies. Combining system improvements, robotics innovations, camera mechanics, and just plain studio savvy, Ciccarelli produced a system that could snap 173 photos from all sides in less than 30 seconds using a turntable and a system of 17 cameras. And size, at least in this case, wouldn’t matter. It’s the same 30 seconds for a diamond ring as for a work truck.

Breaking the time barrier – reducing the snap time from over 10 minutes to less than 30 seconds – almost totally knocked out the most expensive and difficult part of the process: retouching and cleaning up the final images. Ciccarelli’s system can literally produce a Web-publishable image in about the time it takes to snap the images. Combined with a system that automatically reformats the pictures into a Flash movie file or an animated image, the labor involved in a 3-D image is now about the same as would be involved in a 2-D image – pretty much just setting up the shot.

Changing The World One Picture At A Time

Like all great innovations, Ciccarelli’s system has much more to offer than its original purpose. The whole goal of making the system fast was to make it inexpensive enough to be used wide-scale in museums around the world. But the same economics that plague museums – not enough money – also affected what Ciccarelli wanted to do with PhotoTudes.

“I needed to make the company self-supporting,” he explained. “The obvious path was to go where my competitors could never go: high-speed, economical 3-D product photography. No-one else can do this work as fast or as inexpensively as PhotoTudes. And no-one else has a system that can shoot things larger than a table-top item without adding huge expense, things like people, furniture, and cars.”

Facing market competition forced Ciccarelli to envision how manufacturers and retailers can reach their customers using this new technology. As with any innovation, the real challenge is imagining the possibilities for the market, because the market rarely does it for you. Outside of the obvious use of 3-D images on the Web, Ciccarelli sees a future where retailers install kiosks in a store and present fuller and larger lines of merchandise beyond what is on the shelves, without additional inventory and shrinkage costs.

“Manufacturers and retailers can exponentially increase the inventory they offer to customers,” he explains. “Think of it. A clothing store can stock a certain amount of inventory, but double or triple its stock with an in-store kiosk loaded up with 3-D images of models, even models of several different sizes, wearing these clothes. What manufacturer would not want to put their merchandise, even in virtual form, in every store they can?”

Ciccarelli also sees vast changes coming in the trade show circuit. Manufacturers typically travel to trade shows with hundreds or thousands of items. A CD or kiosk with high-quality, low-cost 3D images could help presenters cut their inventory to 50 items or so.

The million-dollar question, however, is who will drive the adoption of this new technology, manufacturers or retailers? Ciccarelli is putting his money down on the manufacturers: “The people who will see the quickest payoff are those who sell products that are used on people, like clothing. I’m betting the early adopters will be the clothing manufacturers who really understand the value of the Web and are already involved in some pretty serious Web distribution and retailing. I see them adopting a marketing model in which they produce Web-ready 3-D images of their entire product line – modeled in 3-D on real people – and distribute them aggressively to online retailers, giving them a significant advantage over their competitors. Other competitive moves, like kiosks or CDs in brick-and-mortar stores and malls, will follow.”

Sitting on a potential gold mine that will revolutionize how manufacturers and retailers reach their customers hasn’t distracted Ciccarelli from his original goal. “I’ve built a great piece of technology, amazing in its simplicity, and now I want to build a history of unique assignments. Ultimately, we’ll reach a level where we can turn our attention to a more philanthropic mission of preserving the antiquities of human culture and scientific research.”

So, when you visit an online store in the not-too-distant future and browse around in the 3-D product images, remember to schedule a visit to an online museum and browse through their 3-D gallery of artifacts previously unavailable to the public. That’s the world Victor Ciccarelli wants to build with PhotoTudes – one picture at a time.

Press contacts

Victor Ciccarelli

CQ Advantage

San Diego, CA 92126


Richard Hooker

8 thoughts on “Getting the Whole Picture
  1. Duh. Are you not aware of the dichotomy between relativity and quantum mechanics? Check it out.References :

  2. We still don’t know what causes it, if that’s what you are asking.
    After all, why would two bodies, 150 million km apart, attract each other?
    .References :

  3. Perhaps you could share what you think is missing in our "picture with respect to gravity".
    Maybe the guvmint is hiding something from us – maybe we really can fly and they don’t want us to know that…References :

  4. Gravity may seem mysterious because it seems to work "outside of matter", but really it doesn’t. Matter is a collection of forces which includes gravity. It also includes the electrical force, which unlike gravity, cancels itself out at a very short range because electrons and protons are very close together. What we perceive as the surface of a desk, for example, is only the distance at which the repulsive clouds of electrons between it and our hand can be felt. The actual electric force continues well beyond that, but the positive and negative force is balanced. Gravity has no opposing force, so it can be felt beyond the point where the electrical forces cancel.References :

  5. gravity is explained in physics in 2 ways:

    1. classical physics says its a force
    2.Relativistic physics says its a result of a bent of space

    to explain:

    back in classical physics, it was thought that gravity was a force..

    Newton formulated as F=ma and F=Gm1m2/r2 give us good approximations, they are not the answer to all physics problems. The flaws of Newton’s law began to appear in the beginning of twentieth century as scientists began dabbling with quantum physics and the like.

    Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation had three basic flaws:

    1. It gave the wrong prediction for the precession of the perihelion of Mercury’s orbit. Mercury’s orbit is elliptical, as predicted by Newton’s theory of gravity, but the ellipse doesn’t stay in precisely the same place all the time. It precesses, which is to say that as Mercury orbits the sun, the entire ellipse rotates about the focal point (i.e. the sun) as shown in the Figure below. This precession is very small; only 570 seconds of arc per century. A second of arc is 1/360 of a degree. Most of this precession could be understood in the context of Newton’s theory of gravity by taking into account perturbations of the orbit due to the presence of other planets. However, once this was done, there still remained a discrepancy of about 40 seconds of arc per century between the prediction, and the observed value. This discrepancy was a complete mystery to scientists at the turn of the century. They even went as far as postulating the existence of an unseen planet (Vulcan) on the far side of the Sun in order to explain it. It was not until Einstein published his work on the general theory of relativity that the perihelion shift of Mercury was truly understood

    2. It did not explain why the gravitational force on an object was proportional to its inertial mass. In other words it did not explain why gravitational acceleration is independent of the mass or composition of an object

    3. It was inconsistent with the Special Theory of Relativity. That is, if an instantaneous force of gravitational attraction exists between two objects then information about the location of one object would be transmitted to another object instantaneously by changes in the gravitational force. Thus it would be possible to send information faster than the speed of light.

    Then it was time for Einstein to explain the rest:
    Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity did away with all three of the above problems, and at the same time it radically altered physicists’ view of the Universe. The main features of General Relativity are:

    1. Space and space-time are not rigid arenas in which events take place. They have form and structure which are influenced by the matter and energy content of the universe.
    2. Matter and energy tell space (and space-time) how to curve.
    3. Space tells matter how to move. In particular small objects travel along the straightest possible lines in curved space (space-time)

    In curved space the rules of Euclidean geometry are changed. Parallel lines can meet, and the sum of the angles in a triangle can be more, or less than 180 degrees, depending on how space is curved. Einstein’s theory gave a correct prediction for the perihelion shift of Mercury. It also explained why objects fall independent of their mass: they all follow the same straightest possible line in curved space-time. Finally, in Einstein’s theory the instantaneous gravitational force is replaced by the curvature of spacetime. Moving a mass causes ripples to form in this curvature, and these ripples travel with the same speed as light. Thus, a distant mass would not feel any instantaneous change in the gravitational force, and special relativity is not violated.

    Remember, these are all that science brought up to explain gravity currently. Newton tried to explain gravity and Einstein elaborated furthermore and applied it to some things that Newton flawed. But both of it are correct depending on what problem you’re looking atReferences :

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