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January 7, 2018

This three-year time-lapse of Seattle is like a real-life Sim City game

by John_A

The city of Seattle has experienced some explosive growth over the past decade, largely due to the influx of tech companies to the area. To illustrate how quickly the city has changed over the past three years, Google engineer Ricardo Martin Brualla put together a time-lapse video of stills captured from one of Seattle’s most iconic landmarks.

The web camera was installed in 2015 on top of the 605-foot-tall Space Needle — a relic of the 1962 World’s Fair — and it captures a 360-degree panorama of the city every 10 minutes. In a post at Medium, Brualla described the process of creating the video, which was compiled from thousands of individual images.

“I used 2166 panoramas that correspond to two photos a day, taken at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., every day for the last three years,” he explained. He then stabilized the images to account for movement of the camera, and then smoothed the sequence to remove the effects of lighting and weather.

If you look carefully, you can see a ghostly cruise ship at the waterfront. “In the summer months, large cruise ships dock into the Seattle’s waterfront for one or two days a week” Brualla wrote. “Because the cruise ship is only about a quarter of the time there, the temporal smoothing represents it as it was a 75 percent transparent.”

Bruella told the GeekWire that he used custom code for the smoothing and stabilization to process the raw images to the time-lapse format. A former PhD student at the University of Washington, Bruella and his colleagues have used “time-lapse mining” to sort and classify millions of photos and then present them in time-lapse sequence from a common viewpoint. These techniques can illustrate long-term diverse changes such as glaciers shrinking or changes to a city skyline.

The video has already drawn comparisons to the animated opening sequence of HBO’s Silicon Valley and perhaps that’s not unwarranted, considering that Microsoft and Nintendo are long-time residents and giants like Amazon, Google, and Facebook have recently set up shop.

Bruella has lived in Seattle for seven years and marvels at the dramatic changes that have taken place.

“It’s been super interesting. I am amazed at how much Denny Triangle and South Lake Union have changed since I got here. I still remember the car dealerships that were 10 minutes away from Westlake,” he said. “Seeing the changes through the Space Needle webcam is really cool, and my video just makes them a bit easier to watch.”

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