Google just added a cool new feature to Google Maps that lets you see photo tours of 15,000 popular landmarks around the world. If these were just photo tours with a Ken Burns effect thrown in for good measure, of course, this wouldn’t be very exciting news. What makes Google’s photo tours stand out is that the company’s engineers use computer vision techniques to create “a 3D experience from public, user-contributed Picasa and Panoramio photos.”
After finding clusters of related photos from these sources, Google’s system then analyzes them to derive the 3D shapes of these sites. From there, it figures out which images to use and how they are connected. Finally, this all comes together in a photo tour with 3D (or at least 3D-like) transitions.
To get this to work, you have to turn on Google Map’s WebGL feature, which turns on a hardware accelerated version of Google Maps to provide you with a more fluid experience.
Sadly, these tours aren’t exactly easy to find. You can either use this link to a map with all the tours, or just search for landmarks in Google Maps and keep an eye out for the photo tours link.
With Photosynth, by the way, Microsoft currently offers a tool that lets you build similar 3D scenes from your own photos. While Google’s Photo Tours run on a predetermined path, though, Photosynth gives users the freedom to move from picture to picture and zoom in and out at will. Microsoft also publishes these on its own Bing Maps site.