Back when Bing Maps was called Microsoft Virtual Earth (2006) the company bought Vexcel, a US Defense Department contractor that specialized in high resolution aerial photography and automated 3D image rendering. That acquisition became the basis of Bing Maps’ subsequent ambitious aerial imagery and 3D mapping efforts. Microsoft then improved upon the camera that Vexcel had developed.
In 2010 Microsoft embarked on what it calls its Global Ortho (GO) project. For the past two years Bing has been “collecting every square inch of the Continental United States and Western Europe at 30cm resolution (1 foot = 1 pixel).” A Blog post today announces the completion of the project for the Continental US.
Here’s a image of Hoover Dam as an example:
To convey the “volume” of data collected during the project, Bing gives some sense of what it would look like “if you lined up all the GO pixels end to end”:
- Around the earth 994 times
- To the moon 104 times
- To Venus, with an extra seven trillion pixels to spare
The imagery will probably have the greatest value to enterprises, government users and geography enthusiasts. Ordinary users are unlikely to be able to appreciate the accomplishment or have much occasion to use the imagery in the course of their daily lives.
The high-resolution imagery and 3D rendering has not become the competitive advantage that Microsoft thought it would be upon buying Vexcel in 2006. Google has maintained its consumer lead in mapping, though not necessarily in image quality.
Nielsen data released earlier this week showed Google Maps to be the top mapping app in mobile as well. In addition Nokia Maps will be the official mapping app for Windows Phone 8. Nokia and Microsoft have been increasingly merging their mapping assets.
Notwithstanding all the high-resolution imagery described above, as well as the impending launch of Apple Maps, the most interesting recent development in mapping may well be the launch of mobile mapping app Recce.