Researchers from Microsoft are working on a project that will change the way we interact with and view online maps on our computer and mobile devices.

The project, called Street Slide: Browsing Street Level Imagery, takes viewers on a virtual journey - letting you stop and investigate shop fronts, apartment buildings and streetscapes from around the world in a continuous panoramic image.

We have seen the birth of this sort of technology with Google's Street View and Bing Maps Streetside, but currently these services provide a somewhat bumpy and disconnected journey for users wanting to experience what it would be like to be there in real life.

"Systems such as Google Street View and Bing Maps Streetside enable users to virtually visit cities by navigating between immersive 360° panoramas, or bubbles," explained the Street Slide team in their abstract.

"The discrete moves from bubble to bubble enabled in these systems do not provide a good visual sense of a larger aggregate such as a whole city block. Multi-perspective 'strip' panoramas can provide a visual summary of a city street but lack the full realism of immersive panoramas."

The multi-perspective panoramic-layout of Street Slide means there is ample space both above and below the images to provide annotations. When users zoom out for an overall view of the street, Street Slide displays logos, street numbers, a mini-map and other helpful information alongside the image - all of which is indispensable for consumers wanting to efficiently and effectively find specific locations within the images.

The team (lead by Johannes Kopf, Billy Chen, Richard Szeliski and Michael F. Cohen) is currently in the process of porting Street Slide to the iPhone - an area where mapping and location-based services are thriving.

"It makes sense that mapping applications can have their largest value when used in situ. To that end we have begun to implement Street Slide on a mobile platform," explained the team in their research paper.

A video of Street Slide in action can be viewed here:

Street Slide was exhibited during SIGGRAPH 2010, an international conference and exhibition of computer graphic and interactive technologies that ran from July 25 to 29 in Los Angeles, USA.

The full research paper is available here (pdf):