Microsoft pushed out an update of Virtual Earth today (details here, plus blog items here and here). There are many useful new features, but perhaps the most jaw-dropping feature is the upgraded 3D models. Virtual Earth has had high quality models for a long time, but the quality has evolved and the scope is immense. In a previous post, I pointed out the new bird's eye photos in my immediate area. Well, we now have 3D models in Grand Rapids (shown above). Grand Rapids!
It's a city of less than 200,000 people, but there are now extremely accurate and detailed 3D models of the city. The models cover not just the downtown, but as far as out as Meijer Gardens. I never thought we'd have this type of application in this area this soon.
The scale of what Microsoft and Google have undertaken is staggering. I mentioned that Mircosoft has collected oblique and street view imagery for the top 150 Metropolitan Statistical Areas. I think that they must be using all the oblique imagery to aid generation of the 3D models (here is an overview of the technology and methodology utilized to create these models. I have not watched the whole thing, but I scanned through it and it seems to cover many of the cutting edge processes being used, including the integration of ortho imagery, oblique imagery, and LiDAR scans). But, even with automated generation of models, the time and cost for this project must still be astronomical. And the platform is free! In Microsoft's in-home blog, their goal is described:
Cities now have thousands more buildings than before especially noticeable
as you move from a city core out to its suburbs. It all adds up to make Virtual
Earth much less virtual and takes us a large step closer to delivering a truly
impressive mirror world experience.
The development of these on-line globes are a watershed moment. As I've written before, I don't think anyone has caught up with the potential of the technology and few realize just how important and useful this will be. In a few years time, we may be able to can to nearly anyplace, anywhere and scroll through as if we are walking down the street. That's just the start of it, because I know they are working on moving from outside to inside. The mirror world is coming.