Want to identify a highway telephone pole from a photo alone? This man can do it in under a second
Most people can identify major world landmarks through pictures, but Trevor Rainbolt takes the skill to a whole new level.
The 23-year-old needs less than a second to identify telephone polls, bridges, even swaths of dead plants in obscure locations around the globe. It’s all part of the online game Geoguessr, which presents users with images to pinpoint on a map. While many players become skilled, Rainbolt has become nearly legendary for his prowess and has amassed millions of fans on TikTok and Instagram.
Using images from Google Street View, the game places players anywhere in the world and asks them to identify the location on a map.
To make a guess, players analyze sand, telephone poles, dirt, grass, language and whatever other details they see, Rainbolt explains. Building this skill requires impeccable attention to details like markings on stop signs and the width or color of lines on roads.
“It gets even worse sometimes if I keep going,” he says. “Everything you could possibly use, we’re using.”
If you see a green line on the side of a bridge, that’s only found in the Central Kalimantan province of Indonesia. And white circular water tanks are found in a specific region in the south of Turkey.
Geoguesser came out in 2013, but Rainbolt only started studying at a competitive level a little over a year ago. Now, he studies lampposts and plant species full-time.
“I’ve really dedicated any ounce of free time I’ve had over the past 14 months,” he says. “Now I just sit here and study all day or I play the game and just kind of train my brain to remember different countries.”
But playing Geoguesser alone doesn’t make Rainbolt any money.
“I played the game for close to a year without it ever making me a single dime just because I truly enjoyed learning about the world,” he says.
Rainbolt can even tell the difference between dead grass or plants in different countries and uses the direction of the sun to identify the hemisphere. But rather than memorizing plant species, he says an intuition developed after playing the game for countless hours. Now, he can identify countries in 0.1 seconds.
“I know exactly what I’m looking for and where to look,” Rainbolt says, “as well as I have just so much of a built-up human intuition of like a stockpile of images in my brain to where some things just immediately I can just recognize without any more context clues.”
Rainbolt wants to keep learning about the world and countries he hopes to visit someday like Iceland.
And sometimes, people reach out to Rainbolt for help. One man emailed Rainbolt a video from when he proposed to his wife 13 years ago in Japan. Due to hurricanes, he couldn’t propose in the spot he wanted to and didn’t remember the actual location.
The man proposed on a random road but remembered the bus he took. And Rainbolt figured out the distance to Mt. Fuji in the background of the video.
“I was able to geo-locate the exact road he proposed and sent him the coordinates 13 years later for him to go back and relive that moment with his wife,” Rainbolt says. “There’s been a lot of people like that I’ve been trying to help because of that … It’s really rewarding to have an impact.”
Karyn Miller Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Gabe Bullard. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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