Explore Dubrovnik from your armchair

Scientists at the University of Washington, Seattle have developed a new way to explore cities on the internet. The cartography tool, called 'Photo Tourism Project', exploits community photo collections posted to websites such as Flikr and Google to remodel cities into 3D representations.

Video of simulator from New Scientist Online

The simulator itself comprises several hundred computers that download the photos and group them by identifying common points in the city's architecture. The groups are aggregated to provide an overall view of the city or tourist attraction.

The results of the simulation can be seen on the University of Washington website. The web-app guides "tourists" around a particular attraction or city street by displaying the photos from different angles. Zoom in on a point of interest and the nearest or most fitting photos is shown.

The extent to which a city may be modelled depends on the number of photos available. Rome was only partially remodelled because most of the available photos were only of certain landmarks. However, the old city in Dubrovnik was completely remodelled using 60,000 photographs downloaded by hundreds of computers over 22 hours.

Google Street View and Google Earth are the most obvious products to compare Photo Tourism with; the latter is a little slow and clunky, and ultimately inferior. In Photo Tourism's defence, this is an initial version of the product. The potential lies in a merger of this software with other products. Were Google to acquire the software, and use it's captured images along with those posted publicly, it would complement the existing views available in the Google Earth and Google Maps applications.  Watch this space.