A new technique that uses the artificial intelligence methods of machine learning and deep learning is able to create 3-D shapes from 2-D images, such as photographs, and is even able to create new, never-before-seen shapes. Karthik Ramani, Purdue’s Donald W. Feddersen Professor of Mechanical Engineering, says that the “magical” capability of AI deep learning is that it is able to learn abstractly. “If you show it hundreds of thousands of shapes of something such as a car, if you then show it a 2-D image of a car, it can reconstruct that model in 3-D,” he says. “It can even take two 2-D images and create a 3-D shape between the two, which we call ‘hallucination.’” When fully developed, this method, called SurfNet, could have significant applications in the fields of 3-D searches on the Internet, as well as helping robotics and autonomous vehicles better understand their surroundings. Perhaps most exciting, however, is that the technique could be used to create 3-D content for virtual reality and augmented reality by simply using standard 2-D photos. “You can imagine a movie camera that is taking pictures in 2-D, but in the virtual reality world everything is appearing magically in 3-D,” Ramani says. “Inch-by-inch we are going there, and in the next five years something like this is going to happen. “Pretty soon we will be at a stage where humans will not be able to differentiate between reality and virtual reality.”“

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