For consumers, the search rivalry between Microsoft’s Bing and Google has a number of advantages, even outside of the core search features both companies offer. Mapping is one of these areas where the two companies are continuously pushing each other to improve their products. Bing Maps has long been a very good mapping service (arguably better than Google’s offerings in some areas), but just like Google Maps, the quality of the images used in the application was often inconsistent. With its Global Ortho program, which launched in 2010, Microsoft aims to bring more consistency to the user experience when it comes to the resolution and quality of the satellite and aerial images it uses. The first fruits of these efforts are slowly becoming more apparent in Bing Maps now and Microsoft just launched an update to its Bing Maps World Tour to showcase the quality of these new images.
Microsoft’s Goal: High-Resolution Aerial Images Everywhere
The tour features 154 locations and is worth a look, but what’s even more interesting is the technology and ambition behind this project. Microsoft aims to cover all of the U.S. and Western Europe with high-resolution images of at least 30cm (this program will likely expand beyond these two regions later). Since the project began in August 2010, Microsoft’s Colorado-based Bing Imagery Technologies team has finished just under half of this project and expects to complete it by the middle of 2012. After that, a regular refresh cycle will take the place of the initial imagery release schedule and the team will work on providing high-resolution images for the rest of the world.
To get these consistent images, Microsoft is working with partners who all use the same kind of camera: Microsoft’s own UltraCam digital aerial camera. Once these photos are taken, Microsoft’s team processes the images to ensure the quality is consistent before they appear in Bing Maps. According to Microsoft, the system currently uses “in excess of 16,500 compute cores and roughly 55 petabytes of storage.”
You can find out a bit more about how all of this works in the video below: