Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Maps, Streets, and 3D Models

As Matt pointed out on a previous post, Google Street View has begun to add some Quad City streets. I decided to take this opportunity to summarize what some of the map websites are doing relating to the QC area.

Google Maps/Google Earth
Google Maps is a map site similar to MapQuest or Yahoo Maps, only with generally better aerial photography. In the Quad City area, they don't have the highest level of aerial photography available, so the last (farthest in) zoom option is unavailable. Google Earth is a downloadable program that incorporates the Google Map info, but also adds more features. One of these features is 3d Models of buildings. Groups of people make these models and submit them to google through 3dWarehouse. Currently only 88 cities in North America have collections of models on this site, and Davenport is not only one of them, but it has one of the larger collections of models available. Some of these will automatically come up in Google Earth if you select the 3d buildings option, and others have not yet been added to it. All of them can be added to your personal Google Earth program manually. If you get really into it, you can even design your own buildings and see what they would look like in the real world. Here's a Google Earth 3d view of downtown Davenport.Each of these buildings was created by an actual person, either using SketchUp, or another program. They have a fairly high level of detail, because most of them were created from photographs. The only ones submitted for Davenport, I believe, are in and around downtown.

Microsoft Live Search Maps/Virtual Earth
Live Search Maps and Virtual Earth are the Microsoft versions of Google Maps and Google Earth. Live Search Maps has even better resolution and a closer zoom in the QC area than Google Maps, and it also has something called the Birds Eye feature. These images have very high resolution, and are shot from more of an isometric angle. Here's an example of a Bird's Eye view of Central High School in Davenport.
Microsoft Virtual Earth also has what they call Virtual Earth 3D, which is similar to the 3D models in Google Earth, except that I believe they are automatically generated by a computer based on the satellite images. They don't look as realistic as the 3D Warehouse images, but there are a LOT more buildings rendered in 3d. Even non-downtown stuff like hospitals, stores, or neighborhood churches are rendered in three dimensions. Here's an example of Virtual Earth 3D, looking at downtown Davenport.Just like in Google's version, you can tilt and pan these maps in any direction, and even "fly" down streets between buildings. Rumor has it that Microsoft plans to use some of this information in new versions of their Flight Simulator games for PCs.

Google Street View
Street View is a component of Google Maps where Google is essentially taking pictures of every mile of every street in America. They have only recently started doing streets in the QC area, and it appears they're mainly adding Moline streets right now. Davenport has a view main streets available, such as the Highway 61 corridor. If you see a minivan driving around town with a ton of cameras mounted on it, wave. You might show up on Google Street View. Here's an example, showing the new courthouse entrance on West 4th Street.You can just keep clicking on arrows to "drive" down streets, and even turn at intersections. At each step you can turn the camera 360 degrees to look at everything that someone driving down the street there could see. To see Street View, click on the stick figure on the left of Google Maps, and drag him to a highlighted available street. Right now most QC streets aren't available, but that's changing daily.

Map nerds like me already surely know about this stuff, but I just thought I'd get it out there for those of you with more interesting hobbies.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post - I wasn't aware Microsoft had an equivilant program to Google. In a couple of years, I hope we're able to get some really detailed full maps of downtown finished.

Anonymous said...

Microsoft Virtual Earth also has what they call Virtual Earth 3D, which is similar to the 3D models in Google Earth, except that I believe they are automatically generated by a computer based on the satellite images.

These are based on the Bird's Eye photos, which I'm pretty sure are taken from a plane, not a satellite. Note that you can rotate the Bird's Eye view in most locations to see all four sides of a building. I think they simply stitch those together to make the "3D" view.