Microsoft’s Amazing Virtual Earth

Posted by Sam Churchill on

The Washington Post, Search Engine Watch and C/Net have gushing reviews of Microsoft’s new Virtual Earth (C/Net video), a competitor to Google Earth.

Microsoft’s 3D mapping product uses their Live Local service to integrate live 3D mapping inside Internet Explorer. A separate application is not required and results include photographs mapped to 3D buildings. LiveSide interviews Stephen Lawler, General Manager for Live Local/Virtual Earth (MP-3).

Photorealistic images are available for 15 cities: San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Detroit, Phoenix, Houston, Baltimore, Atlanta, Denver, Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas. Additional cities will be added, with 100 expected by summer, 2007.

In a word: Wow. Microsoft is doing with its Earth program what I’ve wanted from Google for a while: Making one integrated mapping and globe-exploring service, not two products with different interfaces. With Virtual Earth, you get all of Microsoft’s Live Local features (traffic data, email integration, bookmarks) with the additional capability to zoom around the 3D planet and see your locations from any angle. Microsoft, like Google, has 3D buildings in its virtual world, but Microsoft’s are photo-realistic, not just gray boxes. In the demo (of San Francisco), the buildings looked great.

The service will have an API, so people will be able to use the Virtual Earth globe in their own apps and mashups. However, don’t expect too many people to create Virtual Earth mashups, since the service only works in Internet Explorer.

There are some other snags. The super-zoomed “bird’s eye” view continues to have a different interface than the map and globe tools, and this might cause some confusion. There’s no Sketchup-like building creation utility. And it doesn’t run on a Mac or Firefox.

But Virtual Earth is great eye candy, and if you’re an Internet Explorer user, the integration between it and Microsoft’s online mapping product is very powerful.

Virtual Earth 3D includes elements not necessarily visible in the real world.

Virtual billboards” can float above buildings with advertisements on them as part of a pilot advertising program, said Stephen Lawler, general manager of the Virtual Earth group.

Different advertisers will rotate through the billboard ads, and users will be able to click on them to go to the advertiser’s Web site. Eventually, the ads may be targeted to reflect the user’s query, Lawler said.

The virtual billboard functionality comes from Massive, an in-game advertising company that Microsoft acquired. The Massive technology enables designers to render a graphic on top of any surface in a 3D environment.

Google Earth (below) on the Las Vegas strip.

Microsoft’s Virtual Earth (below) on the Las Vegas strip.

Microsoft was able to create the lifelike cities with technology and expertise it acquired with the purchase of Vexcel, a provider of photogrammetry, imagery and remote-sensing technology. Microsoft announced the purchase plans in March.

In related news, 3 PointD points out a real-time weather visualization system that Aimee Weber has been building for NOAA can now be viewed in the virtual world of Second Life on »Info Island II«. As you can see in the screenshot above, it’s snowing in Wyoming and the Dakotas.

Second Life, created by Linden Labs has competition from other virtual worlds such as Multiverse and Bigworld Technology, as well as open source platforms like

Besides Google Earth and Microsoft’s Virtual Earth, other virtual globes out there include NASA Worldwind, SkylineGlobe, EarthSlot, and Celestia as well as GIS software maker ESRI called ArcGIS Explorer.

In the summer of 2005, Immersive Media Corporation embarked on a 20 City Collect Project.

They are collecting georeferenced spherical Telemmersion video of approximately 100 miles in each of the cities. These 360 degree videos include all major arteries in and out of the city, the downtown core and key attractions. The georeferenced video will enable users to experience a terrestrial view and give audiences the complete picture – it’s like being there.

The georeferenced spherical movies will be made available via IMC’s database. In addition, selective partners will license the data to planners, developers, engineers, utility companies, and first responders, as well as to travel and tourism. The georeferenced videos can be integrated into mapping environments such as ESRI’s ArcGIS.

Related DailyWireless articles include Municipal Wireless Flash Applications, Microsoft’s 3D Photo Flyby, Supercomputer Cells, Microsoft Buying Vexcel, Cities as Game Grids, True Crime, WinHEC 2006, The 19 inch Earthbook, 3D Cities, On Mt. Saint Helens, EZ Photo Mapping and City Clouds: Becoming The World Cup.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Monday, November 6th, 2006 at 3:51 pm .

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