Microsoft’s Bing Maps extends ‘Bird’s Eye’ view of the world

Microsoft has juiced up Bing Maps with fresh photos showing 2.6 million square miles of the planet. The digital images were taken from satellites and camera-equipped airplanes.

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This latest expansion of Bing Maps includes “Bird’s Eye” aerial photos of much of Sweden; you can view images of buildings and landscapes as if you’re a modern day Phileas Fogg looking down at a 44-degree angle from the gondola of a balloon hovering at 10,000 feet.

The more familiar satellite-view image maps show a direct overhead, or orthoganal, view. Photos shot at an angle from low-flying aircraft are referred to as oblique-angle images. Oblique-angle maps let you see a building’s façade and gives you better context of the surroundings. “We’re trying to give you the sense of being there,” says Chris Pendleton, team evangelist for Bing Maps.

Microsoft began sending airplanes aloft equipped with automatic-firing digital cameras and very large hard drives back in December 2007. Those airplanes came back with photos of 12 U.S. cities. The digital images were stitched together and correlated to road maps with some very sophisticated software from Pictometry and Blom, says Pendleton. Microsoft has kept planes in the air taking photographs and amassing two petabytes of digital images. (One petabyte equals 1,000 terabytes.)

Last December, Google launched its version of oblique-angle maps, adding the capacity to zoom in for tighter views, a feature Bing’s Bird’s Eye view lacks. But so far Google’s oblique-angle maps are only available for San Diego and San Jose, says Pendelton.

Meanwhile, Bing Maps supplies free Bird’s Eye view maps that cover most of North America and Europe, with plans to move steadily east across Asia, wherever Microsoft can get approval from local authorities. “We’re letting you explore a high-resolution view of the world,” says Pendleton.

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