Virtual Earth Imagery Update

Microsoft has apparently just added 22TB worth of new imagery to Virtual Earth. The only nice tidbit we know so far is that Australia finally has some Birds Eye imagery.

Assuming this is accurate, I expect a detailed announcement from Microsoft shortly.

Google Ocean coming soon?

According to an article on CNET News, Google is in the process of building a tool known as “Google Ocean” to map the terrain of the ocean floors. Similar to Google Earth and Maps, Ocean will provide the base data (depth mesh and some imagery), and allow users to populate it with data for things like current, shipwrecks, coral reefs, etc.

Capturing the entire ocean in high res would take approximately 100 ship years, so it is assumed that Google will start by using something like the Predicted Depth Map from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, then fill it in with a patchwork of higher resolution data from a variety of sources.

There is no timetable for when Google Ocean might be released. Last December, Google met with various oceanography experts to discuss the project, so at this point it should be well underway. If we hear any more news about a pending release, we’ll let you know.

Driving directions in StreetView

Google has added a neat feature that combines Google Maps driving directions with StreetView. When you’re looking at your list of directions, look for the little camera icon next to each item. If you see one, then you can view those directions in StreetView. It draws a blue line with large arrows inside of the StreetView window to help show your route.

Google has created a video that shows off this new feature. After you’ve watched the video, try it out for yourself. If notice anything interesting during your trip, show it off in the Google Earth Hacks new StreetView section.

Creative tool added to Yahoo Local Maps

Yahoo has just added a simple, innovative “search circle” tool to their Local Maps, which help you quickly narrow down the geographic area that you’re searching.

If you click on “expand map” after a search, you’ll see a blue circle appear on the map.  The results are only shown for locations within that circle.  You can resize and move the circle wherever you want, and the results are updated as you move.

As you resize the circle, the radius is constantly updated (in miles), and the map will automatically pan if you hit the edge.  It’s a neat tool.

More information and additional screenshots can be found on the Yahoo Local & Maps Blog.

StreetView coming to Italy

Google StreetView cars have been spotted in Italy, indicating that StreetView data will be coming soon.

The interesting part is that these don’t seem to be normal StreetView cars.  These come equipped with a handful of SICK laser scanners.  What for?  Educating Silicon does a good job of breaking down the question.  From their post:

So, what is Google doing with 3D laser data? The obvious application is 3D reconstruction for Google Earth. Their current efforts to do this involve user-generated 3D models from Sketchup. They have quite a lot of contributed models, but there is only so far you can get with an approach like that. With an automated solution, they could go for blanket 3D coverage. For an idea of what the final output might look like, have a look at the work of Frueh and Zakhor at Berkeley. They combined aerial and ground based laser with photo data to create full 3D city models. In am not sure Google will go to quite this length, but it certainly looks like they’re made a start on collecting the street-level data. Valleywag claims Google are hiring 300 drivers for their European data gathering efforts, so they will soon be swimming in laser data.

Maybe this is how Google will start mass-generating buildings for Google Earth to catch back up to Microsoft’s stockpile in Virtual Earth.

Google Maps can predict traffic conditions

As reported by the Google Operating System blog, Google Maps now includes traffic predictions.

Simply pick a day of the week and a time, and Google will color the map to show typical traffic conditions on that day/time.  There are a few oddities I found in it, but it’s a neat idea.  For example, here it Atlanta at 5am on Sunday:

What’s up with the heavy traffic on 400?  While there might always be an accident somewhere in town, the predicted traffic for that time of day should be all green.

All in all, it’s a neat idea.  Here are a few pictures that walk through a Monday morning rush hour (5am-8am):

It shows conditions slowly getting worse, which is exactly how things go at that time of day.

My main concern lately with Google Maps traffic is the sporadic coverage.  One day they’ll have almost everything covered, and the next day there will be gray sections everywhere.  I’m not sure where they get their data from (and it may not be their fault), but the lack of consistency makes the service far less useful.

That being said, after e-mail and web browsing, Google Maps traffic is the killer app on my cellphone.  I use it a lot.  This new feature isn’t on the mobile version yet, but I don’t care if it makes it there or not.  When I’m checking from my phone, all I need are live conditions.  If I want to look at predicted traffic for another day, I can do that from my PC.

Google Earth vs. Virtual Earth in Denver

Denver has emerged as one of the flagship cities for both Google Earth and Virtual Earth. Google Earth has built a ton of 3D models in the city, and Virtual Earth has already converted it to “version 2.0″ with over 100,000 3D models (as well as 300,000 trees). Therefore, I thought it’d be a good place to compare some things.

I already did a quick comparison of Turner Field in Atlanta, but that wasn’t completely fair since Atlanta isn’t an updated city in Virtual Earth.  For this comparison, I picked three different locations in the city and captured similarly positioned screenshots from each of the two programs.  In each set of pictures, the Google Earth image is on the left, and the Virtual Earth image is on the right.

Please note that this brief review is about visuals only.  This doesn’t get into usability, extendability, layers, etc.  This is just graphics, pure and simple.  A more in-depth review will come later.

Coors Field

The trees add a nice touch of realism in the Virtual Earth model, but the Google Earth model blows it away.

City Overview

They’re pretty comparable here. Virtual Earth has more buildings in view, but overall they look quite similar.

Downtown Park / State Capitol

Here is where Virtual Earth really shines. The extra buildings in the background and the trees look excellent. Google has a few nice touches (such as the statues) and the building looks a bit better, but the trees really make the Virtual Earth page feel more realistic.

Conclusion

All in all, things haven’t changed much — they’ve just scaled up. Just as before, Google’s buildings look a little better, but Microsoft has a ton more of them. This should be a fun battle to watch over the next few years!

Google Earth 4.3 thoughts, screenshots and a video

Google Earth 4.3 is just starting to become available. You probably won’t find it through the normal pages yet, but the Google Earth Blog found a clever loophole to allow you to get it now — simply visit this page and you can grab it.

My initial thoughts:

StreetView is neat, but not very useful. The version on Google Maps feels much smoother and easier to use.

The sunlight feature is very cool! Terrain and buildings look different as the day progresses and the light hits them from different angles. Terrain also casts shadows, though 3D buildings do not. Here is a short video showing some areas transitioning from day to night:

As expected, the 3D buildings load much better. Also, there are a whole lot more of them in many cities. It appears that some are auto-generated, but Google hasn’t confirmed that yet. I’m of the personal opinion that they automatically generate some, but then hand-tweak each of them, but that may or may not be accurate.  Google Earth Blog weighs in on this as well.

Also, many cities now have a bunch more 3D buildings in them. According to the Google Earth Blog, San Francisco, Baltimore, Raleigh, Charlotte and Phoenix are some of the cities with new buildings. I can confirm that Atlanta has new ones as well.

In particular, Turner Field (home of the Atlanta Braves) finally looks good. I was at a game a few days ago and took a picture with my cell phone (N95 rocks!). Here is a comparison of that photo to a similar view in Google Earth 4.3 and Virtual Earth:

It’s worth mentioning that Turner Field in Virtual Earth is still a “1.0” building, so it’s likely to improve once Atlanta is updated. Also, I still can’t get over how cool the trees look in Virtual Earth. That being said, the stadium looks way better in Google Earth. It’s not even close.

Here are a few more screens I grabbed:

Have you tried it yet? What do you think?

Google Earth 4.3 coming later today

The download isn’t available yet, but Google Earth version 4.3 will be out later today. We’ll let you know when it starts to become available. Some of the notable features:

  • StreetView – As we predicted a few weeks ago, StreetView will finally arrive in Google Earth. The images will be shown using the “Photo Viewer”.
  • New navigation system – The way you navigate in Google Earth has been changed to better support a 3D environment. The view will automatically tilt to horizontal as you zoom in, and your speed will be based on absolute height rather than relative height.
  • Image acquisition dates – The bottom of the screen will now show how old a particular piece of imagery is. Some will be accurate to the day, others to the month and some will simply show the year. This is a feature that a lot of people have wanted, so it’s great to see it coming.
  • Revamped 3D rendering system – They’ve updated the way 3D cities are rendered and added many more of them. It sounds like it will work similar to Virtual Earth, where low-res buildings load first, and they gradually become higher quality as you zoom toward them.
  • Flash support for the Mac – This means things like the YouTube layer, the Google Earth MMORPG and other Flash-based items will now work on a Mac!
  • Sunlight – You can now turn the sun on and off, and use the time-lapse feature to move it around. Hills and mountains will cast shadows on the ground, though 3D buildings will not.
  • New languages – Google Earth will now be available in 12 new languages — Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, English (UK), Spanish, Finnish, Hebrew, Indonesian, Portuguese, Romanian, Thai and Turkish.

It sounds like it will be an awesome update. We can’t wait to get our hands on it!

For more about this coming release, check out the Google Earth Blog and Ogle Earth.

Google Maps now has YouTube videos

Last October, Google Earth got a new layer that showcased YouTube videos.  Starting today, those videos are now available in Google Maps as well.

When viewing an information bubble, simply click on the “Photos & Videos” tab.  More information about this release can be found on the Google LatLong blog.