This item is not about something that is free or even something you may want. It is about an awe inspiring application of technology.
I like to keep up with technology but sometimes I encounter something that totally exceeds what I thought was possible. Possible at a practical level that is, rather than theoretical.
The Microsoft ICE image panorama program is a good example. When I first saw it It struck me as pure technological black magic.
I feel much the same about the Pix4D aerial 3D modelling program. It combines a pilotless, terrain following model aircraft fitted with multiple cameras with GPS technology and advanced image processing software to automatically build complex 3D terrain maps.
To see what the Pix4D can do check out this video:
(If no video displays then disable your ad blocking software)
You can see how the aerial part was was done in this short video:
There is no brilliant new technological innovation here but a clever integration of several existing technologies just like the first iPhone. But that too was a mind bending innovation. In both cases the achievement lies in the seamless character of the technology integration which allows the technology to be accessible to a wider audience.
It is easy to take these innovations for granted but you should never let familiarity blind you to the staggering nature of the achievement.
To put things in better perspective I suggest you try a little thought experiment. If I took you back 25 or 50 years what would you have to do to build something like an iPhone or Pix4D?
The fact is you couldn't do it because many of the supporting technologies were not available. You would have to create these before you could do anything. Try building a full color high resolution capacitative LCD touch screen 50 years ago or even 25. No way.
This little thought experiment provides a good insight into the way technology builds on itself. As Isaac Newton famously said:
"If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants"
PS Thanks to regular contributor Lex Davidson for letting me know about Pix4D