Google Inc is deploying a fleet of small, camera-equipped airplanes above several cities, the Internet search company’s latest step in its ambitious and sometimes controversial plan to create a digital map of the world.
Google plans to release the first three-dimensional maps for several cities by the end of the year, the company said at a news conference at its San Francisco offices on Wednesday.
Google declined to name the cities, but it showed a demonstration of a 3D map of San Francisco, in which a user can navigate around an aerial view of the city.
"We’re trying to create the illusion that you’re just flying over the city, almost as if you were in your own personal helicopter," said Peter Birch, a product manager for Google Earth.
Google’s head of engineering for its maps product, Brian McClendon, said the company was using a fleet of airplanes owned and operated by contractors and flying exclusively for Google.
Asked about potential privacy implications, McClendon said the privacy issues were similar to all aerial imagery and that the type of 45-degree-angle pictures that the planes take have been used for a long time.
Google has used airplanes to collect aerial photos in the past, such as following the 2010 San Bruno, Calif. gas-line explosion, but the latest effort marks the first time the company will deploy the planes in a systemic manner to build a standard feature in one of its products.
By the end of the year, Google said it expects to have 3D map coverage for metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300 million people. The first 3D cityscape will be available within weeks.
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