Bing Maps Unveils Exclusive High Res Imagery

Today, we’re excited to share with our blog readers that the Bing Maps team has updated the Bing Maps World Tour application. The Tour now showcases 153 locations where Bing Maps features new outstanding high-resolution aerial imagery that is being captured and published as part of our Bing Maps Global Ortho imagery program. Using the application, you can view the new aerial imagery through an automated “slide show” mode or explore the locations manually. The imagery is from a special collection referred to as “Geoart” for its unusual, compelling and artistic quality.

What is the Global Ortho program? Launched in the spring of 2010, this program is an ambitious mapping project that aims to provide the Bing Maps platform and consumer web site with 30cm (1 foot) aerial blanket coverage of (initially) the continental United States and Western Europe. A challenge for consumers and enterprise organizations using web mapping services has been that much of the imagery featured there has historically been a patchwork of satellite and aerial imagery of different vintage, quality, clarity and detail. The experience for users of these services has been inconsistent at best, varying by location: while you might expect to find higher resolution aerial images of 15-30cm (meaning that each screen pixel equals 6-12 inches on the ground) over key urban locations, a search in a more rural or remote location would likely yield satellite views of at best half that accuracy and detail. The two below screen captures of Denver and Johnstown, Colorado—locations just 50 miles apart—demonstrate this point.



That is all now changing. The Bing Imagery Technologies team (BITs), located in Boulder, Colorado, has spent more than a year collecting the new Bing Maps imagery, and has been quietly publishing this aerial imagery to the Bing Maps web site. The first of it began appearing in August 2010 and to date, 46% of the project has been captured and roughly 349 blocks equaling 2,771,192 sq kilometers from 37 States, France and Spain have been published, plotted in the below maps. The project is scheduled for completion by June 2012 at which point a refresh cycle will begin to update much of what will already have been collected, with priority placed on locations that have been more subject to change (as opposed to, say, the Mojave Dessert). As its name implies, the Global Ortho program aspires to be truly global, covering the planet with straight down aerial views (ortho images).


What this means to people using Bing Maps and applications built on the Bing Maps platform is that they can trust Bing Maps to provide the same experience regardless of where they search. They will be able to visit any location in the United States or Western Europe online and see it with the same brilliance, resolution and accuracy. 30cm provides a lot of detail! Check out the brilliance of the below image captured over Austin, Texas. Equally important: wherever you are exploring in Bing Maps, you are likely to find CURRENT imagery.


How is Microsoft tackling such an aggressive project? It begins with a business approach that Microsoft is well-known for: partnerships. To collect the imagery, Microsoft is working with aerial mapping organizations that are customers of our UltraCam digital aerial camera business and experts in aerial image collection. Microsoft came into the aerial sensor business in May of 2006 through the acquisition of Vexcel Imaging, GmbH in Austria. Since that time, the UltraCam business has grown to include a commercial line of award-winning and widely adopted aerial camera systems and the UltraCamG, developed specifically for the Global Ortho program and not commercially available. The most important feature of the UltraCamG is that it allows our aerial mapping partners to fly at very high altitudes and capture about 50% more pixels across the flight line than any other digital aerial mapping camera system which translates into time and cost savings.

Then this imagery is delivered to the BITs team in Boulder where it undergoes quality control and is processed to remove the building lean and create the straight down views—“orthos”, as they are called. They are then color balanced so that the color quality is consistent among each view and following this, is delivered to our partner DigitalGlobe—a leading satellite imagery provider—to sell to government and commercial entities for offline use, and stitched to create seamless mosaics for publishing to Bing Maps. This stitching allows you to pan, zoom and scroll through locations in continuous movements.

The storing and processing of this imagery requires a significant amount of computing power. The BITs data compute site provided by DELL has a huge amount of container-based compute and storage power to be able to automate a lot of the things would normally be done manually: currently in excess of 16,500 compute cores and roughly 55 petabytes of storage. Yet this facility runs off hydroelectric power and between this and the DELL design that features evaporative cooling, it is highly-efficient from a power usage effectiveness (PUE) perspective ( 1.03 ).

But enough reading about the Bing Maps Global Ortho program! Check out the video with interviews of key members of the BITs team and lots of stunning examples of the imagery being collected! Then be sure to check out the the Bing Maps World Tour application to see more of this stunning imagery.


600 Free Google Map Markers

Map Icons Collection


I rarely make a Google Map without using map markers from the Map Icons Collection. The collection has more than 600 free icons which you can use as map markers with the Google Maps API, which means you can nearly always find a marker that fits the purpose and design of your map.

The collection has previously been hosted on Google Projects but now has its very own website. With the new website comes two cool new features, styles and custom colors.

The custom colors feature allows you to change the color of any map marker to fit the style of your map and website. The style feature lets you choose from seven different style of marker, including iPhone, gradient and classic.

If you are a Google Maps API developer then bookmark this collection now!

SketchUp: Quick and dirty poché for sectional views

While putting together a demo SketchUp file to use in our booth at the AIA National Convention last month, I worked out a nifty little technique that I think is worth sharing. Here’s hoping you think it’s nifty, too.

The problem I was trying to solve was this: SketchUp’s Section Plane Tool cuts away parts of a model to show sectional views, but it doesn’t “fill in” the spaces between wall surfaces, floor slabs and other areas that are intended to be solid in a design. Often, architects will blacken or hatch these interstitial areas to help their drawings read better. This filling-in is called poché, and SketchUp simply doesn’t offer an automatic way to do it.

By default, SketchUp thickens section cut lines, but the spaces between the faces aren’t filled in (above).

Sometimes, it’s useful to show section cuts with solid shading.

I wanted the SketchUp file I was preparing to look “pochéd” no matter where it was sliced. Furthermore, I wanted that poché to carry over when the model was inserted into LayOut.

I started by using the Section Plane Tool to cut a section through the model (as seen below). I oriented my view to be perpendicular to the section cut by right-clicking the section plane object and choosing Align View. Since I wanted this to be a true, scalable orthographic view, I turned off perspective (Camera > Parallel Projection). Finally, I created a new scene; doing so made navigation easier, and was necessary for creating a viewport in LayOut later on.

An overall view of the model

After adding a Section Plane, I right-clicked and chose Align View.

This is the right view of the model (above), but true orthographic projections don’t include perspective.

Choosing Camera > Parallel Projection from the menu bar turned off the perspective.

Now for some work with Styles: As this would be a black and white, sectional view, I chose to apply the HiddenLine style from the “Default Styles” collection that ships with every copy of SketchUp. This style uses thickened edges to indicate cut-through faces, but (as I mentioned earlier) it doesn’t fill in the areas between them. Perhaps more annoyingly, edges which exist beyond the section cut still show up in cut-through areas (see below). This is visually distracting and not at all acceptable for professional work. If I’d turned in drawings that looked like this in architecture school, my professor would’ve made me run laps around the studio.

Applying the HiddenLine style turns the model black and white, but there are problems.

Edges which exist beyond the plane of the section cut are plainly visible. This isn’t desirable.

Revelation #1: Monochrome is the answer

This helpful post from last year gave me the idea to use the Monochrome face style to automatically turn the “fronts” of my faces white and the “backs”, black. See the following image for a visual explanation of what I did.

I selected the Monochrome face style and chose white and black for the default front and back face colors.
The above settings work well, except where faces are “inside-out”.

Hmm. It was clear that I had a little cleanup work to do; some of my faces were oriented so that the back-side was facing out (above). To make it easier to see what I was doing, I changed the Back Color to something lighter than black, then spent a few minutes turning the offending faces right-side-out by right-clicking them and choosing Reverse Faces. I ended up turning off Section Plane object visibility (View > Section Planes) to make faces easier to select.

Temporarily changing the default Back color to yellow made it easier to see what I was doing.
I spent a few minutes reversing the offending faces.
When I was done, I set the Back color back to black.

Revelation #2: Slim down section cuts

My next problem was easy to solve. The thickened-edge effect that makes section cuts stand out looked too heavy when combined with my newly-pochéd in-between areas, so I made them thinner. You’ll find this setting in the Modeling tab of the Styles dialog box (see below).

The default section cut thickness setting of “3” looks too heavy when combined with poché.
A setting of “1” looks much better.

Revelation #3: Hide Section Planes

While I was in this section of the Styles dialog box, I made sure Section Plane objects would never be visible when my style-in-the-making was applied. I deselected the Section Planes checkbox.

Uncheck the Section Planes checkbox while you’re in this section of the Styles dialog box.

Revelation #4: Eliminate roundness shading

The next challenge I faced was a little trickier. In the following image, notice the shading gradient that defines the curvature on the underside of the Eames lounge? On a true, linework-only drawing, this shading wouldn’t be visible.

The shading in the above image looks nice, but it isn’t appropriate for the drawing type I’m trying to create.

This shading is an automatic result of SketchUp’s built-in rendering engine. It’s usually very useful, but I wanted to get rid of it. After messing around for a few late-night minutes, I figured out how. The key is to do two things:

  • Turn on “Use sun for shading”. This tells SketchUp to use its shadow engine to render faces, even if shadows are turned off (which they probably should be).
  • Move the Dark slider all the way to the right. A setting of 100 for Dark means that shadows basically aren’t visible. This eliminates all curve shading in your model.
Turning on “Use sun for shading” and setting the Dark value to 100 effectively eliminates roundness shading.

Having removed the shading, I’m left with pure black and white linework.

Revelation #5: Set Profiles to “1”

In keeping with my earlier discovery of the benefits of setting my Profile thickness to “1” (instead of “0”), I did so. This allowed curved, multi-faceted surfaces to appear outlined without making the boundaries of every group and component in my model look too thick. The images below show the before and after. Much better.

With Profiles turned off altogether, some rounded objects aren’t visible.
Control Profile settings in the Edge section of the Styles dialog box.
With Profiles turned on and set to “1”, rounded shapes like the lamp on the left are clearly visible.

One more thing

I wanted a nice, thick base for my house to sit on, so I modeled one. Since the base was hollow, the poché trick worked here as well.

I added a thick base to the model.

When everything was set, I created a new style and called it “Section Cut”. With this style applied, things looked just the way I wanted them to, no matter where I cut through my model.

Short section through the same building
The poché trick works just as well on plan sections.