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Susan Smith, Managing Editor
Advanced City Models Targets Navigation and Location Based Games
By Susan Smith
A partnership with the Norwegian company BLOM has made it possible for Tele Atlas to offer their latest product, Advanced City Models. Like its predecessor, 3D City Maps, Advanced City Models is a collection of 3D content types, but this new product takes it a step further with the technology of BLOM, which specializes in oblique imagery. BLOM takes very high resolution images of cities from all angles which allows Tele Atlas to offer a higher level of detail and photorealistic representations of cities.
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In a recent interview with Rik Temmink, Tele Atlas VP of Global Product Management, GISWeekly learned about how the Advanced City Models evolved from 3D City Maps and what the new partnership with BLOM signifies.
Rik Temmink: Our 3D City Maps product came in a number of levels of detail, from basic blocks which we call shoeboxes to blocks with roof structures and then a library of textured models which allowed you to look at a building and say, that looks like a glass fronted building. We would clad the model for that building with bitmap images from the library, as we had some shipping customer applications in the market already with that content. We also did what we call 3D Landmarks of well known buildings in much more detail -- from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe and the White House, recognizable buildings.
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What markets are you targeting with this product?
RT: Some observers have looked at this and said this is just a next step of visualization for navigation applications, that obviously is a key market we’re aiming at. We’re part of a navigation company – Tom Tom. A lot of our key customers build navigation applications either as built in factory fit, in-dash systems or portable PND consumer devices, but we also have customers in a variety of other markets, such as government, enterprise and GIS customers, Some of those are interested in that kind of content. We have companies like PlayStation, a division of Sony, that is also very interested in maps and location content for a variety of things including location based games. This content is applicable to a number of different segments.
What is meant by “lifelike display?”
RT: We have four levels of detail. The highest level of detail involves very high resolution imagery, and it can be converted into lower resolution as well so we’re trying to aim fairly high in terms of the resolution to offer our customers the ability to tune down the resolution so it doesn’t get too heavy to put on a consumer device. Storage is obviously getting cheaper but there is still a bill of material cost associated with storage and also the rendering of high resolution images that also requires some processing power and not all consumer devices have that processing power.
At this point are you relying on consumer devices to have that processing power or are you trying to develop a database that is not so memory intensive?
RT: It’s an ongoing balancing act to get something that looks really good but still renders quickly and doesn’t take too much storage space on a device. The Sony PSP device is an application that Sony sells which has our 3D content in it – that’s a perfect device for this kind of content because it has a very good graphics processor in it. It’s a device designed to do games, and in games you want that fast rendering of lifelike graphics. As with anything in this world, the speed of evolution of technology is pretty fast. Processing power is greater, and flash memory is getting cheaper all the time, so we’re at that inflection point that for even mainstream, in mid range and even low end devices, the capability is there now to make use of this kind of content.
What differentiates Advanced City Models from what you’ve had in the past?
RT: It’s really two different things – the first is the most important: coverage. Over a number of years, we’ve built out 3D models of cities. The way we did that was by effectively surveying the cities from the ground because we had that capability to do field surveying, we didn’t have aerial survey capability. Doing this from the ground is much slower and much more expensive than flying over the top and taking imagery and building models from it. So in the past, our ability to expand coverage quickly at a reasonable cost was the problem. Our partnership with BLOM removes that obstacle so we can build much more quickly at a very cost effective rate. For example, this first batch of city models is 40 cities – in the past we came to slightly more than 40 cities, but it took us 2 ½ years to get there, so we can move much more quickly. The other difference is the photorealistic level of detail. In the past, we couldn’t really get good enough imagery from the ground again to use for these city models which is why we went to the library approach. This involved using bit maps of what a building front might look like, replicated across the front of a building. We still have that level, for some applications that is the right model, because if you use this library texturing it does take far less disk or storage space. With BLOM we now have access to this super high resolution imagery which we can texture on the building block to make it look really lifelike and photorealistic.
In terms of people being able to see these images on their navigation systems, is BLOM or other technology making it easier to view these images?
RT: The models we build are in an industry standard format like VRML and we try and do clever things to reduce the size of the image, for instance, we don’t include facades that aren’t visible. We do a lot of cleanup to remove content that doesn’t add any value and we’ll clean it up to remove artifacts, etc. We’ll do a lot sophisticated work to make the models as light as possible and we publish them in industry standard format. On the device the software application developer would need to choose a renderer that can deal with this kind of content. We offer a standard format that leaves plenty of choice for renderers to operate systems.