Google held a special Google Maps event today to reveal “the next dimension of maps”, and just as expected, it unveiled an advanced Google Maps 3D layer that’s going to be available in different markets, but also Google Maps offline, a feature many Android users have been asking for.
Google confirmed today what we already suspected, that the Google Maps offline feature, currently available to Android device users in Labs only, is going to get a lot better at some point in the near future. Android users will no longer require an active Internet connection to get around town, as they’ll be able to access the resource “right down to Street View” in offline mode. The news is especially comforting for international travelers that would be able to use Google Maps in any region without having to worry about data surcharges while roaming in a different carrier network.
Unfortunately, Google did not reveal an actual release date for Google Maps offline, but at least we know the feature is coming soon to Android devices. Furthermore, Google is apparently “working very hard” to bring Google Maps offline to iOS devices, although it’s not known when that will happen.
Google Maps 3D is not a new concept, but it took Google a while to deliver a complete product. Even so, not all markets that are covered by Google Maps will get instant 3D support as initially only some communities totaling 300 million people will enjoy the new product.
The company detailed the new 3D mapping technology during the event, acknowledging that it has contractors flying a fleet of special 3D-view planes for Google to map out various cities and areas in 3D.
How does it all work? The Verge explains:
To make the images, Google uses planes to take images at 45-degrees from four different angles — flying them in a tightly-controlled pattern with plenty of overlap. Google builds the 3D model off of these many images, using algorithms to create the shape and color of buildings. The process is “fully automated,” building the 3D images without any human interactions. The system is intelligent enough to know when a certain image is blocked or shadowed, for example. The company hopes to combine the 2D mapping and vector data with the 3D images to perhaps someday provide vertical location information.
From there, they generate a textured 3D mesh, which is needed to render 3D scenes.
Interestingly, Google Maps 3D has been demoed on stage by Google on an iPad not on an Android device, but 3D imagery will be coming to both Android and iOS devices at some point “in the coming weeks”.
One other feature Google talked about during the event was its Street View feature available in Google Maps. As expected, the company will further improve the technology, as it plans to cover more and more places, even remote areas that aren’t accessible to its fleet of Street View cars. In fact, Google revealed that it has built special tricycles for Street View use and that it even has a 40-pound Street View capture backpack that can be used to take pictures in “National Parks, the Grand Canyon, castles, ruins, etc.” Now that sounds really exciting!
Without a doubt, Google Maps is one of Google’s best projects, especially coupled with turn-by-turn navigation, so we’re certainly excited to hear about these new features coming to this mapping tool this year.
At the same time, we will keep an eye on Apple’s rumored Google Maps alternative, which is reportedly going to be unveiled at WWDC 2012 in a few days. During the event, Google has been rather dodgy when directly asked about a potential competing product from Apple and repeatedly said that it will bring all Google Maps services on all platforms.