Ultra Sharp 3D Outdoor and Indoor Maps for Mobile and Home

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C3 Technologies 3D Streets

This isn't a photo, it's a 3D map from C3 Technologies. Wow.

C3 Technologies makes Google Maps look like it was drawn by a toddler. A Swedish offshoot of SAAB, C3 has ultra sharp 3D maps of major cities based on de-classified government aerial photography technology. C3 isn't going to sell you its maps, but many other companies probably will. They are actively licensing their 3D photography through an SDK such that it can be used for mobile applications on iPhone, iPad, and Android, or in your computer via a Javascript API for Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and IE. Now covering 100 cities in the US and Europe, C3's maps are among the most detailed I've ever seen, and the company is expanding into interior spaces as well. You could explore an ultra-realistic 3D map of a building before you ever set foot inside it. C3 was on hand for CES 2011, and you can get a taste of their mapping skills in the video from the event below. With 3D views this accurate, I may never need to go sightseeing again.

Google Maps, or Bing, and other prominent mapping services out there give you 3D views that look like they were adapted from aerial photographs. Maps from C3 Technologies look like the aerial photograph itself. The quality is so crisp, and the visual bugs so few, that it's amazing to just watch someone browse through the map. It's like there's a miniature version of the Earth that you can explore in the palm of your hand. In the following video taken at CES 2011, C3's Ludwig Emgard gives you a quick tour of their 3D maps. Whether on a mobile device or a desktop, these examples simply look magnificent.

Like many other 3D mapping companies, C3 builds their models by stitching together thousands of aerial photographs. The difference is that C3 uses extremely well calibrated cameras tied into a high precision navigation system. This allows them to create 3D maps that look as crisp as the original photos they are based on, even as you zoom and rotate. Their website has several example cities you can explore after downloading a plugin. Trust me, it's well worth the effort. I can't get enough of these maps. Here's a demo video of the map of Oslo. Absolutely awesome.

While C3 looks to be expanding its range of available cities, there are only about 100 available at the moment including London, Barcelona, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Boston, Miami and San Francisco. Twenty-two more locations will be released this spring. That's great if you're in a major metropolitan area in the US or Europe, but far from the coverage of Google, Bing, or others.

C3 Technologies Inside Bellagio Hotel

C3 can also produce indoor 3D maps, like this one of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

As well as increasing its geographic range, C3 is expanding into interior settings. With a special camera rig, they can also create a 3D model of the interior of a building using the same photo stitching they use with their aerial or street level maps. Businesses have to request C3 to come in and create such an inside map of their facilities, so don't expect these 3D indoor maps to become ubiquitous anytime soon. Still, the technology is ready and available, so we're bound to see at least a few examples in the months ahead.

C3's SDK can be seen as a rush to get third party developers to put their 3D views onto as many digital screens as possible. As Emgard explains in the first video, the applications for social mapping are clear. With a high-quality three dimensional map you can show friends exactly where you want to meet - you could tag a tree or lamp-post with no problem! I'm sure we'll also see virtual tour apps - guides so clear that you can't possibly get lost. Considering the buzz around C3 at CES, I'm sure that they'll be delivering many copies of their SDK in the near future. But why the rush?

What C3 has accomplished is very likely to be copied, and soon. Yes, the aerial photography technology they use is pretty advanced. Yet I'm sure Google has something equally sophisticated being developed behind closed doors. They love to surprise us with stuff like that. We should expect amazingly high quality 3D maps to become a staple of mapping services in the years ahead. Interior exploration, too, could be accomplished by other firms fairly easily. There are backpack-based 3D camera systems for hire on the market right now. At some point we'll be able to make these ourselves with retail-level devices. Imagine the user-uploaded photos on Google Maps but with an interactive 3D perspective. That's just part of the map-happy future you'll be able to enjoy.

As I've discussed before, maps have become one of the most prominent portals for information in our modern age. Restaurants, shops, housing - we search for these through interactive maps and we find things more quickly. Not only that, but we are fed information far beyond the 'where' of our inquiry. At the same time as you learn how to locate a new restaurant, you can see quality ratings right on the map, or an image of its storefront. (In the future, you may be able to see inside of it as well, maybe in realtime.) This linking of digital data to the physical world is a powerful tool, and with it maps have become one of the most used features on the internet. The detail of C3 maps and their range of scale (from interior to city-wide views) is just one of the many ways that maps are going to blow your mind in the years ahead. Get ready.

[image credits: C3 Technologies]

[sources: C3]

Discussion — 14 Responses

  • Over the River January 27, 2011 on 6:59 pm

    Fascinating, I wonder what the turn-around time is for a changed or new building, street, etc.

  • Peter January 27, 2011 on 7:17 pm

    Oslo in Sweden ? Have they moved it ?

    • Adsaenz Peter January 27, 2011 on 7:29 pm

      Ha! Yeah, that title is from the video presenter on YouTube, not us. Not sure why they didn’t check a map before titling their video.

      Besides, everyone knows that Oslo is really in Minnesota.

    • Hjalmar Peter January 27, 2011 on 10:09 pm

      I live in Oslo (fact). Too bad I didn’t know I was living in Sweden. Guess I’ll have to stop speaking Norwegian, start listening to Abba (shivvver) and so on…

  • Trevis Thirdgill January 27, 2011 on 11:25 pm

    just wait for tandem x to get done its a comprehensive 3d map of the entire earth and even more precise than this

    • Anonymous Trevis Thirdgill January 28, 2011 on 9:15 am

      Apples and oranges!

      Tandem-X will deliver a traditional DEM model of the earth with about 12×12 meter grid and 2 meter height definition.

      While this is unprecedented for satellite data of the *entire earth*, it is nowhere near the resolution of these city models.

      Of course the keyword here is ‘city’. This technology is not practical for entire earth coverage.

      The ideal solution would probably be to combine the two types of data. Tandem-X for the entire earth and C3 for urban areas where you want greater detail.

      • Alx Klive February 2, 2011 on 10:29 pm

        Not wishing to pick holes… there was however a precedent for this… Space Shuttle Mission 99 mapped 95% of the topography of the planet to a 30×30 meter grid with 10m vertical accuracy. Undoubtedly the future is combining this with the likes of C3, Google StreetView etc.

        • Anonymous Alx Klive February 3, 2011 on 7:53 am

          There is a huge difference between 30x30x10 and 1x1x1.

      • Alx Klive February 2, 2011 on 10:29 pm

        Not wishing to pick holes… there was however a precedent for this… Space Shuttle Mission 99 mapped 95% of the topography of the planet to a 30×30 meter grid with 10m vertical accuracy. Undoubtedly the future is combining this with the likes of C3, Google StreetView etc.

  • jgehrke January 27, 2011 on 11:58 pm

    Another step towards virtual tourism. Hopefully this will develop well enough in my lifetime for me to see much more of the world in decent detail.

  • Joey1058 January 28, 2011 on 2:23 am

    It’s an awesome technology! On a related side note, I’m wondering why Google never applied their Street Maps images to their own 3D satellite scans? Oh well, at least some one is thinking ahead. With this kind of detailing of physical reality, it could easily be applied to AR browsers. If you’re looking to use that brand new Starbucks payment app, you now have an EXACT location!

  • Anonymous January 30, 2011 on 6:50 pm

    I would be interested in seeing the 3d technique applied for interiors. The link you provided for their work on interiors only mention that they do regular HDR Panoramas as opposed to a 3D solution. Any video of this?

  • Anonymous February 1, 2011 on 12:47 pm

    I live in Oslo (in fact). Too bad I did not know, I lived in Sweden. Think I’ll stop talking Norwegian, start listening to Abba (shivvver) and so on .

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  • None February 2, 2011 on 11:04 pm

    This is available on yell.com.
    goto http://www.yell.com/maps/ and click on 3D maps