Google Maps is Going 3D!
Google just wrapped up a live press conference announcing a bunch of Google Maps upgrades. The invite hit people's inboxes last Friday, promising that the Mountain View tech company would unveil features taking Maps to "the next dimension." Summaries are beginning to hit the web, and you can follow what happened from minute one by scrolling to the bottom of the CNet liveblog and reading up.
Originally there was some debate over whether the "next dimension" hint meant Maps was going 3D or getting a timeline. At the very least the 3D rumors were accurate. Google Earth project manager Peter Birch explained that technology has only just recently gotten good enough to make realistic 3D maps, with programmers now using "automated technology to extract 3D from aerial images" and then employing stereophotogrammetrywhich Wikipedia describes as a "sophisticated technique...[for] estimating the three-dimensional coordinates of points on an object"to reconstruct full 3D models of cities. Even the trees are in 3D.
You can think of this upgrade as a big step toward the long-expected convergence between Google Maps and Google Earth (which, not coincidentally, is exactly how Google Earth developer Paul van Dinther described it when the 3D rumors started surfacing). Google Earth hasn't really seen a major update in a long time, while the Mountain View kids have been doing all kinds of exciting stuff with Maps. They've gone to the Great Barrier Reef, mapped the insides of airports, and even gotten the notoriously security-conscious Israelis to open up for Streetview.
On the practical use-Maps-to-drive-places side, the technology now takes into account current traffic when giving directions. There's even a Google Maps project for the Roman Empire as it existed, and photo tours of landmarks so you can see what's left of it and a bunch of other places.
Then add in mashups done by non-Google programmers, such as heat maps of gloabl touristiness and wonderful, weird, and NSFW photo collections, and it's obvious where the innovation is happening.
And now 3D, which gives the visual experience of literally flying over a city. Not bad if you're into that sort of thing.
[Photo: Google via Josh Lowensoh/CNet]