The future of 3D models in Google Earth

NOTE 1: Questions and comments are welcome, especially if you can add any latest information from authoritative sources such as from Google or Trimble.

NOTE 2: See the end of this post for a potential opportunity for Letchworth…

In June 2012 the Google Corporation announced that it would bring out a version of Google Earth to cater for for mobile phones and tablets. Incrementally, for major cities, the imagery would be sourced from aerial images taken at an angle and composed into three-dimensional imagery. That process has already started and will be applied incrementally around the world as aircraft overfly entire cities taking the photographs continually. This is only a gist for query and comment, as we interpret the plan. At the time of writing, there is no schedule and none is expected. For information, please refer to statements by Google such as here.

Why? A discussion as to why Google sold SketchUp to Trimble and started 45-degree aerial city modelling in bulk is here.

What is the big difference? The manual method using SketchUp or Building Maker added discrete models to the 3D Warehouse and thence to Google Earth, i.e. one 3D model for each building or complex. The new technology will apply a continuous “mesh” of structures to the terrain.

Will this apply only to accessing Google Earth via mobile devices? No, it will incrementally replace the content of Google Earth, regardless of how you access it.

Is this entirely new? No, aerial photography of cities and regions has been used for decades been used to visualise surface structures in various ways. What is new is the speed and extent of this initiative.

Will the 3D models in Google Earth be preserved? No, it will replace them wherever the”mesh” of 3D modelling covers the urban terrain.

Will our 3D models be wiped out? Apparently not anytime soon. As a world city, London would be an obvious candidate, as later on would Cambridge.

What will be the effect of the roll-out? Cities will increasingly have been modelled automatically whereas towns, villages and other settlements will only have the 3D models that have been modelled manually.

Will the contents of the 3D Warehouse also be replaced? No.

Will the resulting 3D mesh be as detailed as the manually modelled buildings? Generally, no. The automatic content is produced in bulk for reference; the manual models were crafted.

Will it be possible to insert 3D models into the new mesh of structures? No.

What about updating buildings and other structures to reflect changes? That will occur periodically but only in bulk.

What’s the “potential opportunity for Letchworth”? As Google envelops the world’s cities with 3D mesh, most town and other settlements will appear almost uninhabited for lack of 3D structures. So if Letchworth want this town to stand out from others, this is an opportunity for modelling features or parts of the town that will attract interest online. By the time Google’s automatic meshing process reaches here, the technological basis of the 3D mapping may have moved on beyond our present ken.

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