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Watch Buildings Rise and Fall in Timelapses Mined from Public Photos

The world spins madly on in these "mined" timelapses created by researchers at the University of Washington and Google.
May 19, 2015, 5:00pm

Screencaps and GIFs by the author, via

Buildings rise, waterfalls change course, and sculptures wear away in these capitvating, crowd-sourced timelapses from researchers at the University of Washington and Google. Utilizing a unqiue method called "timelapse mining," the team bundled together roughly 86 million geolocated images from public photo forums—think Flickr, Picasa, Panoramio—and honed in on the world’s preeminent tourist attractions and natural wonders. For each locale, their sampling of images was refined, edited, and strung together, resulting in moving documents, from multitudes of lenses, that capture several years in just a few seconds.

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"The main technical contribution of this paper is an approach for producing extremely stable videos, in which viewpoint and transient appearance changes are almost imperceptible, allowing the viewer to focus on the more salient, longer time scale scene changes," the researches explain in their project’s accompanying paper, which was submitted for this year's SIGGRAPH conference. To tackle this hurdle, according their project outline, the team extracted a fractional 10,728 time-lapse sequences of 2,942 landmarks from 86 million geolocated photos of over 120,000 different landmarks. Narrowing this formidable data set down to a workable sample size of 1,000 useable images, they catalogued the photos by date and warped the photographers' perspectives to the same point of view, additionally adjusting the lightings and exposures of the photos. Finally, by setting the playback of the sequence to 120 frames per second (“a rate porpotional to the rate of photos taken”), the crowdsourced timelapses flicker through decades as if a single timelapse rig had been maintained for 20 years.

“We see the world at a fixed temporal scale, in which life advances one second at a time,” the researchers add. “Instead, suppose that you could observe an entire year in a few seconds—a 10 million times speed-up. At this scale, you could see cities expand, glaciers shrink, seasons change, and children grow continuously. Timelapse photography provides a fascinating glimpse into these timescales." All we're left wondering is what a mined timelapse from the Big Bang until now might look like.

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Take a look inside the specs of time-lapse mining—and some of the results—below:

Find out more on the project's page.

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