-Google Maps now includes 3D 'panoramas' of 15,000 landmarks
-Built from photos from Google's Picasa photo-sharing website
-'Tours' allow users to fly round popular tourist landmarks
By ROB WAUGH
Berlin's Brandenburg gate - just one of the 15,000 'photo tours' now available via the search giant's Maps application
Summer holidays are often the first casualties of belt-tightening in hard economic times - but Google now offers a way to 'tour' the world without leaving your PC.
The search giant has created 15,000 free 'photo tours' of world landmarks, which create a '3D' scene from tourist photos from Google's Picasa photo-sharing service.
Landmarks you can 'fly around' include Rome's Trevi Fountain, Half Dome in America's Yosemite and St Mark's Basilica in Venice.
'Every year, millions of people pack their bags and head to far-off places to enjoy sites and cultures different from their own,' said the search giant via its official Google Maps blog. 'With today’s introduction of photo tours, a feature of Google Maps that guides you through a 3D photo scene, we're all one step closer.'
Google 'built' 3D panoramas of each scene using public photos from its Picasa photo-sharing website.
The search giant then 'stuck' the photos together into 3D panoramas which can be accessed via its Google Maps service.
Where shall we go today? Google's photo tours are scattered around the world
The 3D panoramas are 'pasted together' from user-made photos on Google's photo-sharing site Picasa
'They can be initiated from Google Maps in two ways,' says Google, '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,' says Google. '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.'
The tours use Google Maps with WebGL, software that only works in browsers such as Firefox, Chrome and Safari.
Internet Explorer users will have to either switch browser - or fork out for plane tickets.
The photo tours only work in browsers with WebGL, so Internet Explorer users won't be able to join in the fun
The animated views of locations such as Rome's Colosseum (pictured) are built from user-contributed pictures from Google services such as its photo-sharing site Picasa
The 3D views let users 'fly round' landmarks in their browsers