Photo Tourism with Microsoft Photosynth

Let’s talk about your vacation photos for a second. Sure, you have a few snaps of your significant other standing by the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome’s Piazza Navona, but that’s just one sight from the large city square. What if you could extend the borders of your photograph to see what the lens missed?

Computer scientists from Microsoft and the University of Washington have been working on a way to perform such a feat. It’s called Photo Tourism, and it’s a technique that auto-magically organizes related photographs to build a complete model of a scene. We’ve seen this idea before with stitched panoramas, but Photo Tourism brings the experience to a new level since its environments are three-dimensional and interactive.

Also, it isn’t meant to showcase a single person’s images. For example, imagine combining every image on Flickr tagged with “Las Vegas Strip.” Thousands of tourists photograph every inch of the boulevard every day, and all of these photos could be stitched together to form one seamless virtual environment. You could navigate through these joined images as if you were walking to the MGM Grand with the electric dreams of being a Vegas showgirl! Now, that just wouldn’t be possible with traditional photo stitching.

It’s a fascinating concept, and it could be the future of armchair tourism. The product isn’t yet finished, but you can try out Microsoft’s Photosynth Technology Preview. There are a few environments you can explore: Piazza San Marco, Venice (pictured); Grassi Lakes, Canadian Rockies; and Piazza San Pietro, Rome.