Birds eye view

When it was first launched, Virtual Earth from Microsoft was nothing more than a Google maps clone, with older aerial photographs.

Then came the ‘Walk the streets‘ function which was very impressive, but never actually made it into full production and has remained in ‘Preview’ mode and thus still has only limited availability (San Fransisco & Seattle) which makes it untenable.

Birds eye viewFinally though, the Microsoft Live development team have come up with something unique and worthwhile. Birds eye view mapping.

Using Virtual Earth, users can now see images from a Birds eye view of most major (and quite a few minor) cities and towns in the UK in their web browsers.
The images are much closer and more detailed than the aerial photography that was used previously and the shots are far more recent.
I have analyzed the shots taken over Cardiff and have come to the conclusion that they were taken sometime in the early summer of 2006. Perhaps May or June.

Here we see Cardiff Castle, as viewed from the South, looking North.

Another great feature is that you can change your vantage point, you can choose to look from any point of the compass. The magic of this is that the map is not simply rotated, but separate photos have been taken from each different view. If you are looking from the North to South, you can see different sides of buildings, etc. It’s all very impressive.

Here we see Cardiff Castle, as viewed from the North, looking South.

The images have more than likely been taken from an aeroplane, or perhaps even a helicopter, which has clearly spent a lot of flying time shooting all of these high quality images.

The software is impressive too, as AJAX applications go, this is pretty neat, and being written using AJAX, no dowload is required to view the maps. There don’t appear to be too many glitches, especially when using IE7. I have come across the odd few, but nothing too major, certainly nothing that inhibits the use of the website.

Bravo Microsoft, you have outdone yourselves this time.

Microsoft Virtual Earth (Live Search)


  1. I’ve just bee nosing around Northampton which I know quite well. I can’t work out how they’ve done it. The coverage area is huge. I wondered if it was a balloon with four hi-res video cameras on each side of the basket. But I think it must have been a plane or heli, as you suggested, and the skill will have been in stitching together the strips of shots from each pass. Anyway, it’s an incredible asset for those of us who love aerial shots. There’s a site called Birds Eye Tourist which lists the UK towns covered, tho’ I don’t think it’s up to date. I found a bit of Docklands they hadn’t mentioned.

  2. Aha – spoke too soon. From a US estate agents site…
    “It was fascinating to learn about the process Pictometry uses to collect and process all of these 45-degree photos, including seeing one of the fleet of modified Cessna aircraft which are flying all over the country right now, taking these pictures of homes and neighborhoods from all sides. Microsoft then takes this data (50+ terabytes’ worth!), does their magic, and delivers it to millions of people on the Web.”

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