Illustration: The Colosseum is seen here in the digital reconstruction. Each triangle is where a person was standing when he or she took a photo. The building's shape is determined by analyzing photos taken from all these different perspectives. (Credit: University of Washington)
The ancient city of Rome was not built in a day. It took nearly a decade to build the Colosseum, and almost a century to construct St. Peter's Basilica. But now the city, including these landmarks, can be digitized in just a matter of hours.
A new computer algorithm developed at the University of Washington (UW) uses hundreds of thousands of tourist photos to automatically reconstruct an entire city in about a day.
The tool is the most recent in a series developed at the UW to harness the increasingly large digital photo collections available on photo-sharing Web sites. The digital Rome was built from 150,000 tourist photos tagged with the word "Rome" or "Roma" that were downloaded from the popular photo-sharing Web site, Flickr.
Computers analyzed each image and in 21 hours combined them to create a 3-D digital model. With this model, a viewer can fly around Rome's landmarks, from the Trevi Fountain to the Pantheon to the inside of the Sistine Chapel.
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