Google Maps unveils 3D photo tours of popular tourist attractions

25 Apr 2012

Google Maps has rolled out an interesting new feature called Photo Tours that guides users through a 3D photo scene compiled from user-contributed Picasa and Panoromio photos.

The new Photo Tours are available for more than 15,000 popular places around the world, including the Trevi Fountain, St Mark’s Basilica and the Half Dome in Yosemite.

Users can find the new Photo Tours via search with results in the left-hand panel in Google Maps indicating if there is a Photo Tour available.

Also labels will appear on Google Maps over locations where Photo Tours exist.

Every photo in the 3D tours are attributed to their contributor and the future success of the feature rests on people sharing photos on Picasa and Panoramio and making them public.

Advanced computer vision techniques

In a blog post explaining how the 3D Photo Tours were compiled, Google software engineer Steve Seitz explained: “To produce these photo tours, we use advanced computer vision techniques to create a 3D experience from public, user-contributed Picasa and Panaromio photos.

“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,” Seitz said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years