Yesterday marked the official release of Google Earth 4 (the public beta has been available since the summer), a free product with a cleaner interface and a beefed-up focus on 3-D architectural imagery.
Part of the appeal Google Earth holds is “flying” through three-dimensional terrain as if in a 90s-era flight simulator, and Google wants to map bridges, skyscrapers, and landmarks as well. Television news networks have relied on the paid, enhanced version Google Earth for most of their whiz-bang map animations. Google even updated the resolution and some terrain photos of the area involving the the tragic James Kim search last month (.kmz file), which made it easier to comprehend the Oregon terrain the family was lost in.
Though cities like New York and San Francisco are extensively mapped in the 3-D buildings layer, Toronto is not. To accelerate the process, Google is calling for users to help create accurate renderings of architecture using the free Google SketchUp application, which can save files compatible with Google Earth’s overlays. Previously grey blocks and shapes, the renderings can now be textured and photo-mapped.
As it stands now, the Rogers Centre is well-rendered, whereas the CN Tower is a boring monochrome frame. Most of Toronto’s important structures are missing from the 3-D layer, although there are some strange exceptions. The Days Inn (.kmz) stands alone beside a flat Maple Leaf Gardens, and the unbuilt Uptown Residences on Balmuto and Bloor (.kmz) are accurately rendered. It seems like the features will be first mainly co-opted by condo developers like the Uptown’s Pemberton Group, whom are taking advantage of the high visibility of their modeled structures on the currently flush terrain.
Google also offers Toronto building SketchUp models at their 3-D Warehouse, including a rendering of the original Eaton’s College Street unbuilt skyscraper above College Park, which was nixed when the Great Depression hit. Old City Hall is there, as is Pearson’s new terminal and the under-construction Metropolis complex at Dundas Square. A few users have even crudely rendered their own houses.
As far as overhead imagery goes, Google’s Toronto patchwork hasn’t been upgraded in years and is out of date in some areas. Newer condo towers don’t exist, the Pantages hotel is under construction, and the old CBC radio tower on Mutual and Alexander still stands.
Wider views are taken from satellite imagery, while closer, higher-resolution views are usually taken from aircraft. Upgraded in March, the Las Vegas strip (.kmz) has the highest resolution imagery of any city at a staggering three inches per pixel. That’s so clear that street signs and parking space numbers can be easily read. We suspect that the same detail for Hanlan’s Point would do wonders for Toronto’s Virtual Tourism.
A word of warning, however. Enabling the 3-D layer is a processor crunching task, so it’s still virtually unusable for anyone without a newer computer.