Google Maps boosts photo integration with 3D tours of famous landmarks

Every new feature Google adds to its Maps or Earth services gives you one less reason to fork out a truckload of cash on an expensive trans-global trip and one more reason to vacation from your armchair with a can of beer in one hand and a just-delivered pizza in the other.

So what new feature are we talking about? Well, Google Maps now includes photo tours, short but engaging presentations which fly you around a location or landmark, creating a 3D effect in the process.

In a post on the Google Lat Long blog on Wednesday, Google Maps software engineer Steve Seitz explained that while you can view publicly posted photos taken at a location by simply turning on the Maps photo layer, the new photo tour function pulls together many of these pictures to create an almost seamless journey around a place of interest, with the photos morphing from one to another. It’s a pleasing effect and far more enjoyable than just clicking on individual pictures.

There are a couple of ways to discover whether a particular location offers a photo tour. For example, when you search for a place you’re interested in, check to see if a large thumbnail with ‘photo tour’ appears in the left panel. If so, click on it and away you go.

Alternatively, if you click on the label for a particular landmark, the information window which appears will indicate if a tour is offered.

“To produce these photo tours, we use advanced computer vision techniques to create a 3D experience from public, user-contributed Picasa and Panaromio photos,” Seitz explains in the post.

He continues, “We start by finding clusters of overlapping photos around major landmarks. From the photos, our system derives the 3D shape of each landmark and computes the location and orientation of each photo. Google Maps then selects a path through the best images, and adds 3D transitions to seamlessly guide you from photo to photo as if you’re literally flying around the landmark and viewing it from different perspectives.”

The tours are currently available for over 15,000 famous sites around the world, including the stunning Yosemite National Park in California and St. Mark’s Basilica in Italy. Click here for a few ideas of the kinds of tours that are available.

Of course, there’s nothing quite like being actually in the place yourself, but when lack of time, money or just plain bone-idleness get in the way, a photo tour using Google Maps could be just the ticket.

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