Uses for modeling go beyond clothes

The makers of virtual models are looking beyond clothing retail. Soon, some predict, most people will create their own three-dimensional images to plan chores around the house, or help a client at work.

Imagine, for example, rearranging a virtual garden on a PC before doing the real thing in the backyard. Or putting in a new bay window without hammering a single nail. Some people have already toured through a prospective home on their real estate agent's computer.

According to Charles Palm, most people will use virtual models in their everyday lives no later than a year and a half from now. Mr. Palm is president of Synthonics Technologies, a Westlake Village, Calif., firm that creates models of everything from clothing to topographical maps.

He says the technology is basic. Synthonics forms 3-D images of a house, for example, by photographing it from different angles. Technicians merge the photos into one image.

After putting the image online, anyone - from architect to homeowner - could tinker with its design, test new additions, knock out a wall, or add trees to the yard.

The process isn't just for techies, however. Palm believes everyday computer users will soon be making models with a basic digital camera and a little help online.

"People will get instruction from the Internet on how to take the pictures," says Palm. "The photos can then be e-mailed to a service site where they construct the virtual room for you."

Consumers might see furniture companies, for example, rolling out model services on the Internet this year.

"If something has been modeled in furniture, it can be dropped into that room and moved around to see if it fits into a space," says Palm. "You obviously can't take your home with you when you're going into a store."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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