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Susan Smith, Managing Editor
Google and Microsoft Eyeball High Resolution Satellite Imagery Data
By Susan Smith
For the past few years, we have seen geospatial data providers forge ahead into emerging markets, never quite sure, in some cases, who the end user might be. Their wares, once the exclusive domain of GIS professionals and government agencies, are now visible on Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth, and in in-car navigation devices and personal navigation devices all over the world. The ubiquity of the cell phone/email/GPS/iPod has vaulted location based technology to a lofty place in the world of platforms, whether it be desktop, handheld device, touch table or enterprise systems.
A flurry of partnerships have ensued, with Google and Microsoft linking arms with the likes of Digital Globe, GeoEye and SPOT Image and many others. Earlier this year, Google entered into an agreement with map maker Tele Atlas which gives Google the right to use the firm's map data on devices including cell phones and gadgets that are based on the Android operating system. The 5-year agreement states that Google will also continue to use Tele Atlas mapping data on Google services such as Google Maps and Google Earth.
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Galveston, Texas ( Bolivar Peninsula )
This is a Panchromatic, 50 centimeter (1.6 foot) high-resolution WorldView-1 satellite image detailing damage in the Bolivar Peninsula neighborhood of Galveston after Hurricane Ike.
Among the watchers at the recent launch of GeoEye-1 were both Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. GeoEye-1’s rocket was emblazoned with a Google logo, heralding an agreement between GeoEye and Google formed at the time of the launch to sell color half meter resolution imagery to Google for exclusive use in the online mapping market. Brian O’Shaughnessy of Google said they are looking forward to incorporating GeoEye-1 imagery into their Google Earth product “as soon as possible.” The first images from the GeoEye-1 satellite were made available just recently.
Interestingly, Spot Image Corp. announced its partnership with Google just before GeoEye announced theirs. As a Google Earth Enterprise Partner, Spot will be able deliver imagery via Google Earth, integrating SPOT’s imagery content into Google Earth and Maps, plus develop ready to use image data.
The most recent announcement of this type involving Google was made by DigitalGlobe, who has had an agreement with Google “for a long time,” according to Michael McCarthy, senior director of Business Development & Sales Operation of DigitalGlobe. Their recent announcement was actually an extension of that former agreement, where they are to provide imagery for the Google Earth platform.
Following that is the more recent announcement from DigitalGlobe that they are providing Microsoft with imagery to be used on their Virtual Earth platform.
“The interesting thing about the fact the (two announcements) were coincidentally together is that Digital Globe has made a decision to be an equal opportunity provider of imagery to whomever whether it’s Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc.,” said McCarthy. “We want to be in a position to provide imagery to anyone who would like access to our library.”
This is a timely announcement, according to McCarthy, who says that traditional GIS has “collided with and is now meshing with the online mapping part of the industry.”
In 2003, DigitalGlobe signed a deal with Google when they were approached by the company with the offer to help them distribute their imagery to the marketplace. “At that time we had no distribution into the consumer marketplace and we didn’t intend to target the consumer marketplace, so we were happy to make this agreement,” McCarthy noted. “Our goal is to have our imagery as ubiquitous as possible.”
It is hard to imagine serving out high resolution satellite and aerial imagery on a handheld device or GPS, but this is where technology has come to. The form factor is extremely important in the consumer space, McCarthy pointed out, and both disconnected devices and personal navigation are in heavy demand. All data providers, plus wireless carriers and handheld manufacturers, “are looking at how they can create apps and devices that can enhance that navigation experience.”
The convergence in technology today means that you should be able to work in ArcGIS and pull in Virtual Earth or your own data, or a web service or imagery from DigitalGlobe. All the user cares about is, can I get coverage of data for my area? They should have a choice and as many data selections as possible, according to McCarthy.
McCarthy said that the Google agreement is in “operational mode” already and Google constantly requests areas of interest. DigitalGlobe produces those and delivers them to Google and they put it on the Earth platform, “and it would be similar operationally to what Microsoft would be doing.”
Both Google and Microsoft have custom needs in imagery. “They come to us with their specific ideas about what’s interesting to us and to their users,” said McCarthy. “Google’s interests can be on different areas of the world and different continents and maybe more urban than rural. Microsoft can be stressing one continent over the other and maybe rural areas so they select what they receive from us. We don’t impose upon them the imagery they receive. Hopefully they get information from their end users as to what their requirements are.”
In terms of adding content, McCarthy said end users now add so much to the exploration systems that Google and Microsoft have gathered a great deal of data around places. “We look forward to the collateral opportunities that come out – we’ll be exploring how to leverage their technologies and they’ll be learning how they can leverage our imagery.”
New imagery from the Microsoft Virtual Earth agreement will most likely be available at the end of Q4.
DigitalGlobe also recently penned an agreement with deCarta to incorporate imagery into their rich map engine. What this means is that the two companies have formalized a relationship they’ve had for quite some time, but now it is open and DigitalGlobe is available on deCarta’s Developer’s Zone site. The goal is to make deCarta’s platform as rich as possible and easy for integrators and application developers to use.
deCarta builds a platform that internet portal providers, personal navigation companies and wireless companies like Verizon can leverage. Internet portal providers and personal nav companies use the platform so they can publicly face mapping apps within their environments. The platform is enriched by providing content such as DigitalGlobe’s imagery, TeleAtlas’ road content and NAVTEQ’s content that is compatible. The content is then massaged to be used by social media and p-nav. “If you have valuable content that you want to go on a geospatial platform like deCarta’s there are things you must do to make sure you’re compatible with their platform,” explained McCarthy. “The guts of their platform is the Drill Down Server and the Rich Map Engine, so you as a content provider just have to make sure you have the right interface and the right protocol that your content can be easily ingested into the platform. That’s what becoming a deCarta partner is all about, just making sure it can be ingested into their platform.”