TURIN - Have you ever wanted to take a stroll in Yosemite National Park? Or discover the South Omo Valley in Ethiopia? How about Cappadocia in Turkey?
Now you can explore all of these sites from the comfort of your living room thanks to Trail Me Up, a sort of Google Street View, where you can explore meandering canyons and mountain paths with just a few clicks of your computer.
Trail Me Up allows you to go on a guided tour of national parks and trek at high altitudes, complete with handy explanation texts. The site was created by Fabio Zaffagnini, an Italian geologist from the National Research Council in Bologna.
“My dream has always been to visit the most beautiful places in the world and get paid for it. It’s my obsession," he says.
It was on the way back from an especially awesome excursion that he got the idea to create a way online to take "virtual hikes."
This business adventure began about a year ago when, with a group of friends, he created a prototype with a camera that could capture 360º images. Then, after he attached it to a backpack, he began to trek around the world. “We financed the trips ourselves, during our holidays. We worked on nights, as well as weekends.”
The backpack he created has five synchronized cameras, a GPS and an external power source. During the route, the trekker takes a photo every 20-30 meters and registers the position of the shot. When the data is processed, the images are geo-referenced and turned into panoramic shots.
This way, a virtual environment is created, allowing people to walk in the trekker’s footsteps using their mouse, as well as being able to look around in every direction. “A provisional patent has been registered with the U.S. Patent Bureau,” explains Zaffagnini, who is looking for funding. "For now Trail Me Up is a hobby, but I hope it can turn into a job.”
The trails that you can follow online range from the Italian Dolomites to Africa, from Vernal Falls in California to the Southern Omo Valley in Ethiopia and the Isimila gorge in Tanzania. And of course, The Wave in Arizona – a winding sandstone formation that is really difficult to hike. Only 20 lucky people have the privilege of seeing it each day. Every morning at 9 a.m., there is a lottery to decide who will be able to have this incredible experience.
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The Wave, Arizona - Greg Bulla
To add new trails, the backpack is loaned to friends and courageous volunteers. “Right now, it’s in New Zealand and then it’s going to Cuba,” explains Fabio. “For me, meeting the Mursi tribe, in Ethiopia, was an honor. All these trips have left me with special memories. I created the site because I wanted to bring these experiences to others who, maybe because of physical or economic reasons, cannot discover these places in person.”