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How 'Microsoft Flight Simulator' became a 'living game' with Azure AI

Added 09-25-20 04:09:03pm EST - “Microsoft Flight simulator wouldn't be possible without Azure AI.” - Engadget.com

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Posted By TheNewsCommenter: From Engadget.com: “How 'Microsoft Flight Simulator' became a 'living game' with Azure AI”. Below is an excerpt from the article.

Microsoft Flight Simulator is a triumph, one that fully captures the meditative experience of soaring through the clouds. But to bring the game to life, Microsoft and developer Asobo Studio needed more than an upgraded graphics engine to make its planes look more realistic. They needed a way to let you believably fly anywhere on the planet, with true-to-life topography and 3D models for almost everything you see, something that's especially difficult in dense cities.

A task like that would be practically impossible to accomplish by hand. But it's the sort of large-scale data processing that Microsoft's Azure AI was built for. The company was able to push 2.5 petabytes worth of Bing Maps satellite photo data through Azure machine learning to construct the virtual world of Flight Simulator. You could say it's really the cloud that brings the game to life. Azure also helps to model real-time weather. (That's how some players were able to chase recent hurricanes.)

The franchise's hardcore fans were eager to more realism in a new title,according to Jorg Neumann, Microsoft's head of Flight Simulator. Specifically, they asked for visual flight rules (VFR). "It basically means the pilot can orient themselves by just looking out the window," Neumann said. "And in order to do that, the planet below needs to look extraordinarily close to reality. So that was the mission."

After a bit of investigation, Neumann realized that Bing Maps' data set essentially covered the entire planet. The only problem? It was all in 2D. After using some of that data to build a flyable 3D version of Seattle, Neumann turned to the Azure team to craft a machine learning method for converting the entire planet into a giant 3D model.

"AI has just tremendously grown in the last few years," said Eric Boyd, CVP of Azure AI, in an interview. "It's really driven by the massive amounts of data that are now available, combined with the massive amounts of compute that exist in the cloud ... The results you can see are really pretty spectacular where you can come up with algorithms that now look at literally every square kilometer of the planet to identify the individual trees, grass and water, and then use that to build 3D models."

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