As the world gets ready for both Google and Apple’s competing 3D map services, a lot of people are wondering just why we need 3D maps in the first place. 3D maps are cool and all, but are they game changing? Are they actually useful?
While I haven’t seen any killer 3D map apps yet, the truth is detailed 3D maps of the world’s cities could enable some really cool new applications. Of course, the utility of these mapping services will depend on how much access is given to developers.
The computer vision literature is filled with high-tech algorithms that could exploit a 3D model and mobile camera. For example, “SLAM” (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) is a break-through algorithm now used frequently in robotics research that allows a robot (or mobile device) to build a 3D map of its surroundings from a video feed and localize itself against this map. It’s not a far stretch of imagination to think that using a 3D map from the web could help solve this problem faster and more accurately. And there other algorithms that match a 2D image to a 3D model.
If mobile developers are able to access the geometries of these 3D models (either as point clouds or meshes), get ready for some truly amazing augmented reality apps. However, if the 3D models are confined in proprietary viewing applications (like Google Earth or Apple’s new map application), I think these 3D maps will quickly lose their novelty.