Google Maps launches 3D photo tours to fly you around famous landmarks

Weaving together pictures to make them worth more than a 1,000 words, Google has given life to more than 15,000 landmarks across the world with the release of photo tours for Google Maps.

Photo tours, released Wednesday, offers Google Maps users a three-dimensional view of thousands of famous destinations such as St. Mark’s Basilica in Italy, Half Dome in Yosemite, and the Eiffel Tour in Paris.

The tours, accessible from the Maps left-hand panel or landmark labels, fly folks around the historic and memorable locations using photos shared publicly on Picasa and Panoramio (a Google-owned community site for photos of places). Photo tours aim to offer viewers the most comprehensive perspective of a particular place, as seen from the masses that have captured and shared their experiences on other Google products.

Google constructs the tours by stitching together photos with computer vision technologies.

“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 software engineer Steve Seitz explained in a blog post on the new feature. “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 photo tours addition to Google Maps is just one of many ongoing improvements Google has made to the popular maps product in recent months. The company just added more traffic data and improved the Android version of the application. A few months back, Google Maps also rolled out 3D aerial route previews, providing users with a helicopter view of driving directions.

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