The visuals are automatically created from 45-degree aerial imagery and can pick up 3D elements as subtle as trees. Currently, only a few cities have been given the 3D treatment for Google Earth. They include San Francisco Bay, Boulder, Boston, Charlotte, Lawrence, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Portland, San Antonio, San Diego, Santa Cruz and Tampa in the US, with Rome being the lone international hotspot.
Google is giving large cities a major 3D makeover in the coming months. The early peeks have been very impressive.
Google’s head of engineering for maps, Brian McClendon, said the company was using a fleet of airplanes owned and operated by contractors and flying exclusively for Google.
Google has used airplanes to collect aerial photos in the past, but the latest effort marks the first time the company will deploy the planes in a systemic manner to build a standard feature in one of its products.
“We’re trying to create the illusion that you’re just flying over the city, almost as if you were in your own personal helicopter,” said Peter Birch, a product manager for Google Earth.
Another feature, Google’s offline maps, will work with the compass in your phone or tablet. Unfortunately, the new version of Google Maps is only compatible with devices running on Android 3.2 and upwards, excluding Gingerbread (Android 2.3) users.
If you don’t want or need the overhead of 3D Google Earth, you can now download Google Maps for Android in Google Play, then select and save a region of a map from more than 150 countries for use offline.
Google has offered the ability to “cache” maps for selected areas to your device for almost a year, but it’s been a “labs” feature. To enable offline maps, you select a top-level menu option to save a local area — currently Labs supports a 10-square mile area.