MOUNTAIN VIEW -- The next time you move, you may be able to give friends and family members a virtual tour of your new house, thanks to new technology from a Silicon Valley startup.
Mountain View-based Matterport on Thursday is set to begin offering for sale a camera and a service that can create 3-D models of interior spaces or outdoor scenes.
At $4,500, the camera is not priced for consumers. But Matterport hopes it will appeal to professional photographers, real estate companies and other businesses that could use it on websites targeted at consumers. In the near future, when smartphones have 3-D cameras built into them, consumers might be able to upload their pictures to Matterport's service directly.
"It will be like taking a movie," said Bill Brown, Matterport's CEO. "You can capture a place and explore it later."
Virtual 3-D models aren't new, of course. Interactive 3-D worlds have been a part of video games for 20 years. In the early days of the commercial Web, real estate agents were able to give potential homebuyers 360-degree views of homes using Apple's QuickTime VR technology. Google for about seven years has offered Street View, which allows users of its Maps service to take virtual tours, street-level tours of neighborhoods and cities. And Autodesk has made a whole business of offering 3-D modeling software and services.
But Matterport is one of the first companies whose modeling technology is built around 3-D cameras. Its camera system is composed of three Kinect sensors that are pointed up, down and directly ahead. By using 3-D cameras, Matterport is able to create a model that accurately reflects the dimensions of particular rooms or objects within them.
The company's service also stands out because it was designed to make 3-D models cheaper and easier to create, edit and view. The camera system makes a single 360-degree image of a room in about 24 seconds. By placing it at different points within the room, it can fully capture all the objects within it in a few minutes.
The camera transfers the images to an iPad app that quickly stitches them together. The app later uploads them to Matterport's servers for more complete and detailed processing, a step that takes about 20 minutes, Brown said.
Users can view the 3-D models through their Web browsers using the popular Unity multimedia plug-in, instead of needing some kind of special software. The models are designed to be easily embedded in other Web pages. In an upcoming version of the service, users will be able to edit the files, changing the color of rooms, say, or changing out the sofa for a newer one.
Matterport initially plans to market the system, which is available only through its website, to companies and professional photographers. It plans to charge about $50 to $100 a month for its cloud service.
The company sees potential for the system in the tourism, real estate and home furnishing industries as well as in the legal and insurance fields. A pre-release version of the system was used in the George Zimmerman trial to model the scene of the shooting, Brown said.
But the company, which has raised about $10 million from Lux Capital and other venture capital investors, is also collaborating on Google's Project Tango, which is exploring how 3-D cameras might be used inside everyday smartphones. That effort might allow consumers to use their own photos to create virtual tours using Matterport's service.
"Long term, that's where we're going," said Brown.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at Twitter.com/troywolv.
Headquarters: Mountain View
Founders: Matt Bell, Dave Gausebeck, Mike Beebe, who previously worked at Google, PayPal and SRI, respectively
Funding: $10 million
Investors: Lux Capital, Felicis Ventures, Greylock Partners, Crate & Barrel founder Gordon Segal, Sling Media co-founder Blake Krikorian
Product: 3-D camera system and cloud modeling service.