This kind of picture looks like a view from a bird in the sky; actually it is called Bing Maps GeoArt, which are part of the company’s Bing Maps Global Ortho project. The project aimed at do a high-resolution, seamless mapping mosaic the continental United States and Western Europe. Obviously this task is very arduous and expensive. About $100 million is spent in hiring pilots to fly a planes equipped with specifically designed cameras which are worth of $1 million. Almost every few seconds these cameras snap shots to capture pictures, and each pixel of these pictures equals between 6 and 12 inches on the ground. After that, in order to make sure the pictures are smoke-free, without non-permanent snow and standing water, Microsoft has to do quality control on the pictures. If an area is covered with deciduous tress, the best time for shooting pictures are the spring and fall when the leaves are off the trees. At last, Microsoft needs to balance color of the shoots, to make sure when the users saw the pictures; they can’t even realize these pictures have been moved from one shot to the next.
The pictures are extraordinary clear as the project is achieved. Besides, in any directions users panned, the pictures are consistent. Now, Microsoft and Google are all doing aerial mapping, but compared with Microsoft, Google are most clear in dense urban areas, but in suburb or rural areas pictures are not clear as Microsoft.
Some pictures are designed as Windows desktop themes by Microsoft. Only computers running windows 7 can download these themes. There are swoopy white sand formations that came out of the green Gulf of Mexico in Cedar Key, Fla., and vertebrate claw-looking stones in Canyon lands National Park near Moab, Utah.
By June 2012, the continental United States and Western Europe will be finished mapping. The next regions which are shot won’t be countries; locations hit by natural disasters will be the new images. Ultimately, Alaska, Hawaii, Canada are all involved in the project. Of course, the last objective is the whole world.
Until now, Microsoft has finished about half of the United States and about 10 percent of Europe. But only about a third of pictures of United States have been shown. Many new images are still processing right now.
In the first place the new GeoArt application wasn’t part of plan for global Ortho. But Microsoft realized the aerial images have the potential to develop as it came in.
"It’s a really random collection," said Steve Stanzel, general manager, Bing Maps Imagery Technology. "Most often, it’s things that are just surprising. The patterns that come out are abstract art."
Farmlands are plowed as geometric shapes are some of the most eye-catching pictures, Microsoft pointes up the fields east of Pataha, Wash. There are also some interesting pictures, such as a shot of Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and a bird’s-eye view of Pebble Beach Golf Links along the California coast.
Even though the investment with huge cost and efforts can’t have direct returns, Microsoft is counting on the global Ortho project which has bright effect. Between 20 percent and 30 percent of Bing search queries have some local intent, Stanzel said. Microsoft wants to provide high-quality mapping pictures to Web searchers through the project. And Microsoft thinks this project can rival in Google which monopolize many sources on mapping imagery. "When people come to Bing and find the information they need, they come back," Stanzel said.