Ovi Maps 3D Puts Google Earth Tech to Shame

By Wesley Fenlon

C3 Technologies' aerial photography mapmaking may well be the future of 3D mapping.

Google Earth, you’re officially on notice: there’s new 3D mapping on the block, and it’s incredible. The 3D aerial mapping demo we saw in March is now a genuine product. As you may recall, developer C3 Technologies took hardware originally used in missile guidance systems and adapted it to photography to capture extremely accurate 3D images. The company has partnered with Nokia to deliver the first usable version of its mapping data with Ovi Maps 3D, which currently features 20 cities waiting to be panned and zoomed through in three dimensions.

C3’s mapping technology.

SketchUp 3D modeling. That involves people putting parts of maps together manually. C3’s map data, by contrast, is assembled almost completely automatically. C3’s planes are outfitted with DSLRs pointing every which way, capturing overlapping images to produce complete 3D images. All those pictures are then processed through custom machine-vision software to gauge the depth of the 3D and assemble the map data.

LIDAR, a process that uses lasers to gauge the size and shape of 3D geometry. And LIDAR is expensive--by relying on cameras and software, C3 is saving money while producing detailed maps. Usually photography requires manual correction, but C3 claims its process is 98% automated and requires little cleanup.

C3’s images, viewed in Ovi Maps, are definitely more detailed than what you’ll see in Google Earth--and they pop into focus more quickly, too. The texture resolution isn’t great up close, and the map software clearly has trouble figuring out the shape of foliage, but the potential here is amazing. And since C3’s already partnered with Nokia, this mapping software could make its way to Windows Phone 7 at some point.

C3 has adapted its methods for ground use on cars and boats and one day hopes to map the insides of buildings, too. Thanks to C3 and the augmented reality apps of the future, someday you’ll be able to tell exactly how many centimeters away the nearest Starbucks is.