CAN you imagine flying around the streets of Swindon rather than walking them?

Well now you can, since a computer firm is mapping the world in a 3D flythrough format online - and Swindon is one of the first to be shown in its space-age glory.

Microsoft's Virtual Earth now includes the first UK 3D cities of any earth browser. It includes fully texture-mapped 3D buildings and Swindon and Brighton are the first places shown.

It is thought Swindon was chosen as a test subject for the technology in terms of 3D capture because it does not have that many high-rise buildings and has many flat roofs, so is relatively easy to map out on a computer.

Microsoft began the Virtual Earth programme last weekend.

It involved flying a plane over a location that sends a laser beam out to measure the height and distance of buildings and photographs them.

It is the next stage in the development of Google Earth, which began two years ago.

Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith, is a Senior Research Fellow at The Centre For Advantaged Spatial Analysis and the team leader of the Virtual London modelling group.

He said: "You will be able to tour and explore a town by flight to get a real sense of location and place.

"It is like something out of the movie Blade Runner."It will be used to open up how the planning system works."

"I think we can safely assume that more cities will follow using their automatic capture technique and the results to date are impressive.

"The next six months will be interesting in terms of city visualisation."

It has been widely reported that the project has cost Microsoft billions of pounds, although an actual figure has not been officially released.

The firm plans to incorporate adverting into the fly-throughs to fund the scheme.

Rather than posters on lampposts, there will be adverts on boards in mid-air as you travel past them.

In the movie, available online to download, you can see the flyover of firstly the coastal town of Brighton and then fly over Swindon.

  • Click here to view the 'Virtual Swindon' video.