Millions of public photos used to create seamless time-lapses of iconic landmarks

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Using powerful algorithms, researchers have been able to compile millions of public photos into stable time-lapses

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A team of big picture-thinking researchers has developed a novel way of creating stable time-lapse videos by sewing together millions of public photos taken from the internet. The resulting sequences document everything from retreating glaciers to the construction of Las Vegas skyscrapers, without the team even needing to leave the lab.

Time-lapse photography can be an incredibly powerful way to capture short-term changes in an environment, but it usually requires the photographer to park themselves (or at least there equipment) in the same spot for a while. But with so many similar photos of iconic locations snapped everyday and uploaded to the internet, researchers from Google and the University of Washington figured this is something that could be avoided.

Drawing on a total of 86 million photos, the team first sorted snaps of 120,000 landmarks and common photo angles of those landmarks. The photos were also ordered by date, with each of them warped to appear as if taken from the same viewpoint.

The team then built special algorithms to automate the process and make the differing camera angles unnoticeable when viewed in sequence. This stablization process also compensated for changes in lighting that would have otherwise resulted in flickering in between frames.

This work resulted in a pretty decent proof of concept, with more than 10,000 time-lapse sequences of 2,942 landmarks, each made up of more than 300 images. The more notable ones include a video demonstrating the shrinking of Norway's Briksdalbreen Glacier, the construction of New York's Goldman Sach's tower and shifting sandbars off the coast of Thailand.

With online catalogues of publicly available snaps growing every day, the team says there is huge scope to use them to chronicle geological changes in the planet's most photographed landmarks. The process has been dubbed time-lapse mining, and who knows, maybe some holiday albums of your own are being scoured for gold right now?

The time-lapse mining process is outlined in the team's research paper here and you can check out some of the time-lapses in the video below.

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