Carol Vorderman's Internet Column: Search Engines; GEARING UP FOR THE VIRTUAL CAR SHOWROOM
Ziemer, Laurette, The Mirror (London, England)
THOUSANDS of car enthusiasts will be making the trek to Earls Court next week for the Motor Show.
But this year you can join in the excitement without having to put up with the crowds and the hassle.
It's easy to get a close look at the latest models without even going there.
A quick zoom around the Net and you'll be up to speed on everything from the latest and the fastest to some of the must-have classic cars.
Thanks to the new Panormania technology, it is now possible on many sites to get a complete view of a car - just as if you were watching one spin round on an exhibition turntable.
You can even play with a 360-degree view of the car's interior.
Point your mouse at the steering wheel and you can zoom in to check out the dials and gauges and take a look at the music system.
The 360-degree images for many motoring websites are created by a company called Panormania (www.panor mania.com).
Business development manager Jamie Mitchell says: "This allows car manufacturers to display their products in minute detail to prospective customers in their homes or in the office.
"They can actually interact with the car, and if a person enjoys their journey on the virtual highway they're more likely to get out there and test-drive the real thing."
Panormania, based in Oxford, has been developing its product for 18 months, starting off with BMW (www.bmw.co.uk).
As with all good ideas, the concept is straightforward.
For the interior shots, a photographer takes 12 shots at 30-degree angles and sticks them together.
"Once we've created this seamless panorama we transfer it on to the websites," explains Jamie.
The exterior displays, where the car spins around at the click of the mouse, are made by taking 36 shots at slightly different angles as the car rotates.
They are then presented in a way similar to those old-fashioned flip books where you flick through the pages quickly to see an apparently moving image.
"In theory, there is nothing to stop you clicking on the bonnet and taking a look at the engine or opening the boot to check out the space," says Jamie.
"In future there will be video incorporated where you could have a car moving along a road with changing scenery visible in the windows."
In the meantime you'll have to make do with the following:
At www.newbeetle.co. uk: the funky new Beetle can be seen by clicking into "close encounters", then entering rotascape.
You come away feeling as if you've actually been inside one of the gems - we wanted one immediately. …