BUCKINGHAM Palace is usually the preserve of paying visitors or guests but now anyone can tour the famous London landmark - using the internet.
A virtual reality experience has been created for some of the palace’s state rooms, taking the viewer into the heart of the royal residence and bringing the ornate furniture, fixtures and fittings almost within grasp.
Visitors can stand at the bottom of the grand staircase and, although not able to move, have an almost 360-degree view of the architectural wonder.
They can also look down the picture gallery at the Old Masters such as Canaletto hanging on the walls, then turn around to see paintings behind them.
Other highlights include tours of the lavishly decorated Green and White drawing rooms and the ballroom - where knighthoods and OBEs are presented by the Queen during investitures - all accompanied by a virtual tour guide.
Google is behind the project and it has created a similar experience for schools under its Expedition pioneer programme, but instead of having a virtual guide, teachers dictate the tour and highlight interesting topics for pupils.
Jemima Rellie, director of content and audiences at the Royal Collection Trust which has collaborated with Google for the project, said: “For schoolchildren, Buckingham Palace is one of the most iconic, magical buildings in the world.
“We’re terrifically excited that, thanks to the virtual reality potential of Google Expedition, children, their teachers and families can visit the palace wherever they live.”
Sixteen cameras - known as a Jump camera rig - placed in a circle were used to take the pictures last week.
Google developed the virtual palace tour after creating similar experiences of other landmarks and natural wonders for schoolchildren around the globe taking part in its Expedition initiative, a pilot programme.
Using a master tablet running Google’s Expedition app and virtual reality goggles developed by Google called Cardboard - the material used to make them - teachers have been able to take their pupils to Japan’s Mount Fuji or experience the Borneo rainforest.
When the internet company asked the children what other virtual expeditions they wanted to take, they suggested the White House, outer space and Buckingham Palace.
Jennifer Holland, Expedition’s programme manager, said Barclay Primary School in Leyton, east London, was keen on seeing the Queen’s home.
Mrs Holland said: “We asked them, if you could go anywhere in the world where would you want to go and they replied - Buckingham Palace.”
Pupils from Barclay attended the launch of the virtual palace tour at an education training and technology show at ExCeL in London.
Luke Scott, IT manager for Lion Academy Trust which runs the school, said: “It was interesting taking a step back and looking at the children’s reactions, they would tell their friends to ‘look over there’ - they really thought they were there.”
Schools can take their pupils on a virtual field trip of Buckingham Palace by applying online to either Google’s Expedition initiative - which loans the equipment needed and provides support - or its new Open Beta project which allows schools to download the free Expedition app and use their own tablets and goggles.