Most cityscapes on Google Earth are flat, but in the next few days or weeks -- downtown Hamburg will debut as Google's first three-dimensional city.
"With the textured facades, Hamburg is the first city worldwide that can be seen in such detail," Google spokesman Stefan Keuchel told Der Spiegel in Hamburg on Wednesday, without mentioning exactly when hundreds of buildings in Hamburg's downtown were due to go live in 3D. Expanding its mapping service into the third dimension is high priority for Google. "We want to develop the ultimate virtual globe," said Keuchel. The California-based company plans to build virtual 3D maps of most major cities -- along with a search function that will show, say, every restaurant along a given street.
The problem is that to build a database of a city in 3D, Google needs photographs of every building, from every angle. It plans to collect them with the help of user-contributed images. Volunteers can use a program called "Sketch-Up" to fill in the outlines of major buildings with their own photos.
The approach is fundamentally different from Google's main rival, Microsoft, which wants to offer a similar 3D versions of cities on its own mapping service, Virtual Earth. Instead of using uploaded photos from users, though, Microsoft simply bought a company that specializes in gathering such images.
Hamburg will be the first metropolis available to anyone who has downloaded Google Earth's free software.
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