From drone taken photospheres to Google Tour Creator
What is Tour Creator?
Tour Creator is an online Google tool for linking 360 photospheres into a purposeful sequence. The 360 photospheres can be sourced from Google Street View or uploaded after having been taken with a 360 camera such as a Ricoh Theta. The individual photospheres can have their own title, location, added ‘points of interest’ and audio attachments as ambient sounds or narration.
The skill level necessary to be effective with Tour Creator is relatively low. I have successfully used it with a mixed ability, mixed age group (11 to 14 years old) class in a ‘Bring Your Own Laptop’ setting. G Suite for Education users need to get their domain admin to enable Tour Creator before it can be used.
Classroom application for this tool are considerable. Using 360 cameras students could capture photospheres in their local area or whilst on an offsite experience. Value can now be easily added to the photospheres using Tour Creator to meet the requirements of a task or rubric. The ability to use photospheres sourced from Google Street View – both user contributed and those taken by the Street View vehicles – allows access to a huge amount of locations. Students could create a tour to show how a settlement changes as they journey from the centre to the suburbs. Alternatively, students could produce a tour to show the locations featured in a piece of literature.
What are drone photospheres?
I have been taking photosphere images for a couple of years using smartphones, a Ricoh Theta, a dedicated tripod mount and DSLR and now a drone. There is a basic rule of thumb – the longer it takes to capture and process the photosphere the higher quality the output. When you are riding camels with a group of students quicker is always best and therefore something like the Ricoh Theta is excellent.
I received a DJI Spark for Christmas (lucky me!) and have enjoyed flying it and using it to capture photos since. One of the functions of the DJI Spark is the ability to take photospheres. Fly to any altitude (while keeping within the Drone Code/Laws) whether it be 1 metre or 120 metres, press the button, the drone takes 46 images and then once the flight is over you can use the DJI smartphone app to stitch and export the image. The very top and very bottom of the image are not always brilliant (pan so you are looking directly down in the photosphere above Mumbles Lighthouse) but I think it does a fantastic job and this setup has many possibilities for educators.
The need to process the files to add EXIF
The stitched photosphere that you can export via your smartphone to some services such as iOS photos or Google Photos will look a little funny when ‘flat’. They are best viewed in an application that lets you pan around. To make the exported image work in some viewers such as Facebook you will need to add a little bit of EXIF data to tell the application/platform that it should be opened with a photosphere viewer. This is not necessary when uploading drone spheres to Google Tour Creator as you would not be uploading a ‘normal’ image here.
Here is an example of a sequence of drone taken photospheres that I have curated into Tour Builder. There are 4 scenes to explore, no audio (I am about to focus on how best to integrate that into my next project) with all the photospheres being taken approximately 120 metres above the ground.