Thursday, May 12, 2011

Not everything at Nokia is a distaster - Take the Ovi Maps department as positive example

Recent news about Nokia have not been very positive. First there was the anouncement that Nokia will do a partnership with Microsoft and replace their legacy mobile operating system Symbian with Windows Phone 7. Later Nokia informed the press that they cut 4000 jobs world wide - All in all they do not perform well recently and mobile competitors head away.

But eventhough Nokia faces a though time there seems to be one department within the concern who brings innovation after innovation and surpises with great new products. The OVI map group at Nokia does a great job. Recently the have announced OVI Maps 3D. This thing will blow you away. If you think Google Earth is cool then you will be thrilled to see OVI Maps in 3D. This piece of technology puts Google Earth Tech to Shame.

Ovi Maps 3D is 3D aerial mapping on the block. The technological background comes from a company called C3 Technologies, who has now partnered with Nokia to deliver the first usable version of its mapping data with Ovi Maps 3D. Developers of C3 technologies, took hardware originally used in missile guidance systems and adapted it to photography to capture extremely accurate 3D images.

Ovi Maps 3D currently features 20 cities

Take a minute to play with the maps and get a taste for how they differ from the flat images of Google Maps. Of course, Google Earth can do 3D, too. But not like this. Let’s take a look at the advantages offered by C3’s mapping technology.

Part of the process of building Google Earth involves using Google SketchUp 3D modeling. That involves people putting parts of maps together manually. C3’s map data, by contrast, is assembled almost completely automatically. C3’s planes are outfitted with DSLRs pointing every which way, capturing overlapping images to produce complete 3D images. All those pictures are then processed through custom machine-vision software to gauge the depth of the 3D and assemble the map data.

Traditionally, this sort of mapping is done using LIDAR, a process that uses lasers to gauge the size and shape of 3D geometry. And LIDAR is expensive--by relying on cameras and software, C3 is saving money while producing detailed maps. Usually photography requires manual correction, but C3 claims its process is 98% automated and requires little cleanup.

C3’s images, viewed in Ovi Maps, are definitely more detailed than what you’ll see in Google Earth--and they pop into focus more quickly, too. The texture resolution isn’t great up close, and the map software clearly has trouble figuring out the shape of foliage, but the potential here is amazing. And since C3’s already partnered with Nokia, this mapping software could make its way to Windows Phone 7 at some point.

C3 has adapted its methods for ground use on cars and boats and one day hopes to map the insides of buildings, too. Thanks to C3 and the augmented reality apps of the future, someday you’ll be able to tell exactly how many centimeters away the nearest Starbucks is.

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