On Friday, the Google LatLong Blog announced the company had acquired ImageAmerica, “a company that builds high resolution cameras for the collection of aerial imagery.” Google plans to use the capabilities in Google Maps and Earth. ImageAmerica provided some of the high-resolution post-Hurricane Katrina images (no longer available) in Google Earth.
In May of last year, Microsoft acquired Vexcel. Among other things the company is the maker of an extremely high-resolution camera for orthogonal photography and 3-D mapping. Microsoft is using Vexcel’s technology in both areas. Vexcel also brought automated 3-D rendering to Microsoft, allowing the company to build photo-realistic models of urban areas very quickly.
At the time of the Vexcel cquisition and subsequent launch of Virtual Earth 3-D, Microsoft believed that it had trumped Google and taken the lead in online mapping. Clearly that was true in terms of 3-D rendering, which Google was relying on third-parties to develop manually. But more recently Google has apparently licensed automated 3-D rendering technology to complement its community based approach.
Google has also made a well-publicized and dramatic push into street-level photography with StreetView. Microsoft has so far declined to pursue street-level photography beyond a small beta test of StreetSide. But Microsoft is also developing an interesting experimental local-photography initiative in Photosynth.
Google’s acquisition of ImageAmerica is part of an ongoing investment in Maps/Earth. Google and Microsoft are doing battle in a mapping feature war that is creating some amazing products for consumers (and developers). Indeed, Google is seeking to turn Earth and Maps into a development platform for others. Microsoft has similar ambitions for Virtual Earth and Live Local. Mapping (broadly defined) has become a highly competitive strategic initiative, which is being effectively subsidized by the two companies.