When you need directions or you want to see what a place looks like, you’ll more than likely turn to Google Maps because of its Streetview feature. No doubt about it, Streetview’s really cool, especially when you’re visiting a place for the first time. With Streetview, you can familiarize yourself with the place even before you get there so you won’t look so much like a tourist.
It’s precisely because of this feature that Google Maps is the most dominant, all powerful mapping service around. Quite simply, there’s nothing to compare with it, and that’s why it has virtually no competition to speak of.
But what if someone was to take all the fun of 3D mapping from Google? And what if that someone was Nokia? Quite unbelievable? Not really.
Nokia has been ramping up its efforts when it comes to mapping. Remember the Apple Maps kerfuffle last year? Aside from Google, Nokia was there to save the day when it launched HERE back in November of last year.
HERE offers map views, live traffic views, public transport line views or satellite views, which you can save for use later, even without data coverage. In some areas/countries, HERE users can even access community maps created and updated by users, so you’ll know if there’s any road construction going on, or if the traffic in certain areas will be heavy.
Now, Nokia has its eyes set on Google’s Streetview feature, having just announced its second generation 3D mapping technology. According to Slashgear, the new technology was developed using a new camera, LIDAR, and processing technology from 3D specialist Earthmine.
The first gen Nokia system used Earthmine’s first gen mapping system paired with four cameras with super-wide-angle lenses mounted on top of cars that roamed around US and European cities.
The second system is a huge upgrade from Nokia’s first gen system, as each of the four cameras now captures images at 16.8MP for a total panorama of 68MP. Paired with Earthmine’s fish-eye lenses, the four cameras are able to record everything from streetview level up to the sky, capturing a full 360º view. A complete image is capture every six-meters.
The second gen system also uses a LIDAR laser scanner that spins on top of the camera to build a digital picture of the surrounding environment. It is able to see around 200m in a 40º arc around the front of the car. This allows it to capture 700,000 3D data points at a time.
The data collected by the system includes building facades, street signs, road markings, and can be used to populate Nokia’s maps with 3D vector graphics of the topography of the landscape.
As with the old version of the system, the new one is also equipped with a high-accuracy GPS sensor. All the data gathered, about 140GB of data a day, is stored in a hard drive in a removable caddy which can be sent to Earthmine for processing.
To control the 3D camera, a Microsoft Surface tablet is mounted inside the car with HERE True Control installed in it. Aside from managing the 3D camera, the program also guides the driver as to which route to take, and using a tethered Lumia 920, it is able to give real-time feedback to Nokia’s servers, such as the location of the car, and other pertinent data.
What makes this system better than Google’s is that with the use of the 3D photos and Earthmine’s text recognition, signs are better merged with the roads and there is almost no need for human verification which will make the process faster. What took Google years to do, with this new system, Nokia will be able to do it faster.
Nokia aims to launch the second gen system in 27 countries this year, across Africa, South America, Asia, North America, and Europe.
So where is Nokia and Earthmine in respect to Google Maps?
“We’re behind them now,” Earthmine founder John Ristevski said in an interview, “but we can catch up very quickly.”