Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Visit global landmarks with photo tours in Google Maps


Every year, millions of people pack their bags and head to far-off places to enjoy sites and cultures different from their own. While there, they snap photos to document their trip and share their excursions online. Yet none of these individual photos captures the experience of actually being immersed in a specific location. With today’s introduction of photo tours, a feature of Google Maps that guides you through a 3D photo scene, we're one step closer.


Photo tours are available for more than 15,000 popular sites around the world, from famous landmarks such as St. Mark’s Basilica in Italy to scenic treasures like Half Dome in Yosemite. They can be initiated from Google Maps in two ways. First, when you search for a place, such as Trevi Fountain, the results in the left panel will indicate if there is a photo tour available: click either the thumbnail image or the link to start the tour. Alternatively, if you’re browsing the map and click on the label for a particular landmark, the info window that appears will indicate if a photo tour is available.


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.


Every photo is attributed to its contributor, and the more photos people share, the better the tours get. So if you have great photos of places you’ve visited on Picasa or Panoramio, make them public so they’ll be eligible for inclusion in these photo tours!

Please note that using photo tours requires Google Maps with WebGL. Check out a few of our favorites or visit this map to browse all the available tours. Enjoy touring!

Posted by Steve Seitz, Software Engineer, Google Maps