Google Maps ‘offline’, software 3D coming soon

Google will introduce offline Google Maps for Android phones in the “next few weeks”, convert entire towns and cities into 3D using software, and start capturing ‘street views’ using cameras mounted on a person.

The biggest announcement is the introduction of offline Google Maps, which will take direct aim at navigation software makers.

So far, the only reason to use navigation software and devices, as different from a mobile phone, was that the latter required a data connection to work. On the other hand, navigation software and devices would have most of the data on the device itself, and could work ‘offline’ or without the active help of a cellular or satellite data connection.

“People have been asking for the ability to use our maps offline on their mobile phones. So today we’re announcing that offline Google Maps for Android are coming in the next few weeks.

“Users will be able to take maps offline from more than 100 countries. This means that the next time you are on the subway, or don’t have a data connection, you can still use our maps,” Brian McClendon, VP of Engineering, Google Maps said in an official blog.

The second innovation is software rendering of flat images into 3D spaces that can be ‘traversed’ virtually by users. So far, Google did offer 3D experience, but only in select areas where it had physically driven around and collected thousands and thousands of photographs under its ‘Street View’ program.

However, now, Google seems to have figured out a way to extrapolate 3D (or depth) using software, from essentially flat or 2D pictures.

“Since 2006, we’ve had textured 3D buildings in Google Earth, and today we are excited to announce that we will begin adding 3D models to entire metropolitan areas to Google Earth on mobile devices.

“This is possible thanks to a combination of our new imagery rendering techniques and computer vision that let us automatically create 3D cityscapes, complete with buildings, terrain and even landscaping, from 45-degree aerial imagery. By the end of the year we aim to have 3D coverage for metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300 million people,” it said.

It is, of course, not clear how good this ‘3D’ experience will be.

On the same topic, Google announced it is now sending ‘trekkers’ with cameras as part of its Google Maps Street View program. Earlier innovations have involved trikes (three-wheeled cycles), trolleys and snowmobiles, besides the regular car.

“There’s a whole wilderness out there that is only accessible by foot. Trekker solves that problem by enabling us to photograph beautiful places such as the Grand Canyon so anyone can explore them. All the equipment fits in this one backpack, and we’ve already taken it out on the slopes,” it said.

Finally, it also announced the expansion of its user-generated mapping facility, Map Maker, to South Africa and Egypt, and to 10 more countries over the next few weeks: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.