Dubai 360 virtual tour

Gerald Donovan gives us a tour of Dubai from the sky

Area Guides

Newly launched interactive website dubai360.com offers a unique to way to see the city.

Dubai’s first interactive tour, Dubai 360 (www.dubai360.com), launched last month. It gives residents, tourists and armchair adventurers a panoramic view of the city, interactive time-lapse and video content. Users can click on the hotspot icons to reveal information about that sight, and it behaves like an interactive tour guide.

There are currently 1,300 locations on the site and the organisers expect this to grow as the city does. ‘Even with Dubai as it is right now, there’s still a lot of content that we want to capture,’ says Gerald Donovan, operations manager at Dubai 360. Donovan has been working on the project for more than 18 months, setting up the technology, the photo shoots and bringing the sights of Dubai to life.

‘The idea was to take advantage of new technology in order to share panoramic imagery of Dubai’s sights and attractions. Usually if you watch a video or see a picture of the city you don’t have any control over where you’re viewing from, but with Dubai 360, you can decide where you want to go and in what direction you want to look.’

The site is visually impressive, and with each building taking up to four hours to shoot, it begs the question – how did they do it? Donovan breaks it down. ‘The approach we used to create the still images is to take a single camera and rotate it on a robotic tripod head that tracks the camera around the scene and fires the shutter, taking, in some instances, up to 150 shots for a single image. So if you look at the Burj Khalifa pinnacle panorama, that’s about 150 separate images that we put together using software that can analyse the overlapping areas and work out how to stitch the frames together.’

Much of the software used to create and manage the site is custom-made, but creating the content required ingenuity. ‘The metro video is shot from the front of the train with six small Go Pro cameras arranged in a cube all facing different directions. We stitched those images together to make it 360 degrees.’

Dubai 360 was created by a team of three permanent staff, a software crew of eight and a wider network of technical support, and the numbers are likely to expand as the site develops. Donovan says the biggest challenge was working with the scale of the site. He says that the team had originally planned to include around 400 items, but looking around the emirate, they increased that number rapidly.

The site will be competing against Google Street View which launched in Dubai in December 2014 and already allows viewers to take an interactive walk down its streets, but Donovan feels that the key difference between that site and his is simply down to the view. Where Google Street View offers just that – a view from the street – Dubai 360 offers a variety of tours from a number of different perspectives, whether they be from ground level or from above. The site also differs in the variety of places shot – from Sheikh Zayed road to the metro route.

As with Google Street View, the issue of privacy is also a concern. Donovan says that his site has support from both the government of Dubai and the private sector, which has given it unrivalled access to places such as the airport. ‘Respecting people’s privacy is key, so on ground level we don’t shoot at a high resolution; we always blur faces out. There are a few exceptions where people have said they want to be shown, but we’re very careful to respect people’s privacy and shoot things with a sensible level of detail.’ And the site isn’t just about the creators showing you what they want you to see. Viewers can also suggest places they’d like to see more of.

Checking the site’s diagnostics, Donovan reveals details of the highest numbers of users accessing it. ‘There are five times as many people from Hungary using the site right now than people in the UAE,’ he says. ‘There are users in Poland, Russia, China and Pakistan, proving there is worldwide interest in Dubai and the site we’ve put together.’
www.dubai360.com

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