Microsoft Virtual Earth adds Birds-Eye View to 3D Globe

We all somewhat guess this would be coming around and tonight Microsoft releases Birds-eye View for their 3D Globe. They’ve taken those great Birds-eye View images from the 2D maps and using Photosynth they stiched them all together to create a “3D World”. Now of course this isn’t a true 3D, but if you’ve ever tried out Photosynth, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The Virtual Earth Blog spells it out quite nicely.

For background, its important to understand the challenges of visualizing our Birds eye imagery in a seamless mosaic the way we are all used to looking at satellite imagery that looks straight down at earth. Since all of the images are shot from the same point of view, it’s relatively easy to stitch them together in a convincing tapestry. There’s still challenges like doing good color balancing across images and rectifying so that buildings in tall cities don’t appear to butt heads, but these are pretty well understood problems. Birds eye images are a different story. because of the way they are captured, there is no easy way to stitch them at their edges without introducing nasty distortions. The result is that Birds eye imagery is viewed as discrete ‘scenes’ instead of 1 giant tapestry. when you navigate to the edge of the current scene, the most appropriate next scene is dynamically determined, then displayed. Since Birds eye imagery is captured from 4 angles, we have North, South, East and west views of each point on earth adding another dimension of complexity to navigation.

In 3D, the same challenges remain, but are easier to address with client side managed code. the result is a user interface that borrows concepts from MSR’s Photosysnth to allow you to navigate more fluidly and naturally than what is possible with a javascript based client.

If you ever read my blog, you know how much I love the Birds-eye View images and now combining them with the 3D globe really gives you the ability to see areas that you’d miss with a top down or even a street level view. I’m interested to see how one can now use these images with applications built on the 3D globe. The limitations of the Birds-eye images might not allow much, but it still would be interesting to see on a macro level.

The street level images are nice from a navigating sense, but I always feel like I’m in a canyon. These Birds-eye view images are much more open and having them available in 2D or 3D really pushes Virtual Earth ahead of Google Maps in my book (now how about making the darn think work in Safari?). One thing that jumped out at me was how good Microsoft’s building models look. Sometimes you can’t tell the difference between the Birds-eye and the 3D model. For those who can’t install the 3D add on, take a look at the video below.