Dassault Systemes to build on Microsoft's Virtual Earth

Microsoft Corp. will work with 3D design and visualization software developer Dassault Systemes SA, to add a new dimension to its Virtual Earth mapping and satellite imagery service, the companies announced Tuesday.

Through this partnership, Microsoft will be able to invite users of Virtual Earth to contribute their own 3D models of buildings featured on the maps, much as Google Inc. already does with the "3D Warehouse" layer in its Google Earth software and the free modeling tool Google SketchUp, now at version 6.

To encourage development of models for inclusion in Virtual Earth, Dassault Systmes has built an online community, 3dvia.com, around consumer uses of its and other companies' 3D modeling tools. The community began life as Teapotters.com, a creative project set up by a group of Dassault employees, but opened its doors as 3Dvia.com.

As a demonstration of what's possible, Dassault Systemes is offering a free 3D model of a much sought-after electronic gadget -- not partner Microsoft's Zune music player, but the iPhone to be launched by Apple Inc. on Friday. The iPhone model can be viewed using the 3D Life Player browser plug-in from Virtools SA of Paris and, if you catch the angle just right, offers an unexpected view of the inside of the gadget.

Dassault Systemes also announced partnerships with two French companies, Realviz SA of Sophia Antipolis and Allegorithmic of Clermont Ferrand, to make their technology available to members of the 3dvia.com community.

Allegorithmic will allow community members to use its procedural textures to decorate their models. Procedural textures are patterns of shading created according to a series of rules or algorithms to resemble real-world surfaces such as rock, foliage or sheet metal. They are often used to render more realistic scenery in video games without the need for storing voluminous image files.

Realviz makes software used by film makers and game developers to create photorealistic 3D images. One of its applications, VTour, can be used to construct three-dimensional models of scenes from a single photograph. Dassault Systemes will integrate VTour with 3dvia, allowing users to combine their 3D models with 3D backdrops created from photographs.

Dassault Systemes also plans a business side to the 3dvia community, called SupplierSource, to help designers find manufacturers for their products. The SupplierSource site, which the company said will appear at http://www.suppliersource.3dvia.com/, is not yet live.

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