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Mining the internet for time lapses

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2015

Software from a group at the University of Washington and Google discovers time lapses lurking in photos posted to the internet. For example, their bot found hundreds of photos of a Norwegian glacier on the Web, taken over a span of 10 years. Voila, instant time lapse of a retreating glacier.

First, we cluster 86 million photos into landmarks and popular viewpoints. Then, we sort the photos by date and warp each photo onto a common viewpoint. Finally, we stabilize the appearance of the sequence to compensate for lighting effects and minimize flicker. Our resulting time-lapses show diverse changes in the world’s most popular sites, like glaciers shrinking, skyscrapers being constructed, and waterfalls changing course.

This is like a time machine, allowing you to go back 5 or 10 years and position a camera somewhere to take photos every few days or weeks. Pretty clever.

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