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A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

“In 2019, we’ll see great improvements in mobile 3D volumetric capture, a technology that enables the digitization of three-dimensional space.”

In the wake of the great 2017 virtual reality bubble — and its subsequent burst — several things have happened. While augmented reality (AR) has taken over much of the momentum and attention, we’re seeing broader changes in the way we create and distribute 3D content.

News outlets like The New York Times and Quartz are already combining AR with journalism to create augmented reality features, providing readers with new understanding and interaction with their journalism through 3D models.

One recent example of 3D and journalism combining to make something greater than the sum of its parts came as Norway experienced a collective information vacuum. A major and seemingly impossible collision between a battleship and an oil tanker led to a media frenzy — but mostly unanswered questions as the Norwegian navy largely kept silent.

But by combining old-school journalism with open data and off-the-shelf 3D models, several Norwegian media outlets were able to piece together an advanced recreation. Both virtual 3D-models and real-life 3D-printed models helped explain the “impossible” scenario of the collision to the public.

Images from an interactive feature by VG and 3D printed model used by NRK in news broadcasts.

Simultaneously, we saw how improved graphics capabilities at reduced cost make gaming-level graphics available to journalists — creating tremendous possibilities for explaining current affairs visually. In the U.S., The Weather Channel is pushing boundaries by using the Unreal Engine that also powers Fortnite to create explainers:

In 2019, we’ll see great improvements in mobile 3D volumetric capture, a technology that enables the digitization of three-dimensional space. While it’s been possible to capture 3D space with drones and phones for some time, quality has been a limiting factor.

Now, the rear-facing cameras on new phones will make 3D accessible to smaller newsrooms and independent journalists too. LG’s recent patent for a phone featuring 16 camera lenses, with 3D movies and images touted as a central feature, is a sign of what we can expect in the near future. All these new phone cameras will make it easier to create models that can enhance our journalism.

The first of many gaps between different mobile 3D technologies are now being closed. Currently, we’re seeing advanced camera technology and depth sensing on new phones with two or more cameras. Now, through Facebook’s recent adoption of 3D images and services like Depthy, easy-to-create 3D content has the potential for broader distribution.

As mobile 3D technology matures, it will undoubtedly provide new possibilities and pitfalls for media and journalism — and find its way into even the smallest newsrooms.

Ståle Grut is a journalist and strategic advisor at NRKbeta.

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