Did you know your photographs were used for this timelapse?

19 May 2015

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Researchers have teamed up with Google to trawl through more than 80 million public photographs of some of the world’s most iconic landmarks, making this incredibly revealing series of timelapses.

Showing things like glaciers vanishing, lakes receding and even cliff faces eroding, University of Washington’s Ricardo Martin-Brualla and Steven Seitz as well as Google’s David Gallup combined to ‘timelapse mine’ the web.

They collated millions of images taken from similar geolocated positions, and used their timestamp to reflect gradual, minute, yet amazing alterations in our surroundings.

For example, did you know the Charging Bull statue in Manhattan actually moves ever-so-slightly over time? Well it does, which plays havoc with the timelapse.

This Charging Bull timelapse shows it gradually moving

This Charging Bull timelapse shows it gradually moving

“We see the world at a fixed temporal scale, in which life advances one second at a time,” says the trio in the research. “Instead, suppose that you could observe an entire year in a few seconds – a 10 million times speed-up.”

To do this, they developed a way to “synthesise” timelapse videos of popular landmarks from large community photo collections.

“First, we cluster 86 million photos into landmarks and popular viewpoints. Then, we sort the photos by date and warp each photo onto a common viewpoint. Finally, we stabilise the appearance of the sequence to compensate for lighting effects and minimize flicker.”

The resultant timelapses are pretty cool, far more comprehensive than anything you can generate on your own phone or social media service.

What’s brilliant about the technique is also unfortunate. Given it’s reliant on accurate geolocation and timestamps, it can only truly reveal what has happened in the last handful of years.

So we won’t get a comprehensive look at glaciers over the last decades (we have to rely on satellite footage for that), but it’s still pretty cool.

Charging Bull in New York image, via Shutterstock

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Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com