The project is based on a set of 35,000 aerial photos of Switzerland taken by photography business Perrochet Pleinciel in the 1960s, originally intended to be made into postcards.
Fifty years later EPFL has created a website called Smapshot which aims to compare these archive photos with present-day Switzerland to show how the country has changed over the years.
Launched six weeks ago, Smapshot superimposes the archive photos onto a virtual map of contemporary Switzerland created using data from the Swiss topography office.
Members of the public are being asked to help out by geo-tagging the location of archive photos they recognize and adding anecdotes about the location.
“By geo-tagging these archives, we’ll see how Switzerland has changed over the past 50 years – melting glaciers, receding forest and the impact of development on the countryside,” said researcher Timothée Produit in a press release.
“It will give urban planners, geographers, civil engineers and landscape architects a broader historical perspective of a given site, which will help them plan future development.”
Salvatore Aprea, deputy curator of EPFL’s Modern Construction Archives, which holds the photography collection, said it could even be used to recreate 1960s Switzerland using augmented reality.
“Plenciel was initially a business venture. Its creators has no idea how important their work would be,” he added.
So far only 1,200 of the collection’s 35,000 photo have been uploaded, and around 40 percent of those have been geotagged on Smapshot.
EPFL hopes to eventually upload and tag all the photos.
Selected photos will be displayed in an exhibition at EPFL this week, along with demonstrations of how Smapshot works.