Google’s new partnership program for local governments, Cities in 3D, announced today, is initially aimed at U.S. local governments (though the rest of world is invited to participate) to encourage the creation and sharing of 3D models of their geographies. While anyone can now upload a model to Google 3D Warehouse, it must meet certain format and other criteria before Google might place it into Google Earth. The partnership program also has some data quality requirements, but allows larger dataset to be delivered. Google presents the program as complementary to the Warehouse. (FAQ)
I spoke with JL Needham, manager of public sector content partnerships, and Bruce Polderman, product manager for 3D content in a phone briefing on Monday. Google, they explained is tackling the 3D model arena in part to get communities involved with planning and other local activities but also to make finding and sharing this spatial data far easier than it is today. Further, they argue, data sharing such as this ensures communities gain the full value of their data.
When speaking with local governments the Google team learned that while only a small percentage have 3D models, many have the building blocks of those models: LiDAR data, building heights, building footprints, etc. Perhaps, Google suggests, this program will be the little push needed to create a model of downtown, if not the entire municipality. And, Needham and Polderman are quick to point out that the models need not be completely rendered to be part of Google Earth. “Gray buildings” are just fine.
The pair also point out that there’s a “tourism” benefit to having such models. It easier for visitors to explore and find where they might stay and which neighborhoods they might like to explore if such models are readily available.
I suggested a program like this for sharing aerial imagery would be valuable. The response was “that’s not an unreasonable expectation,” so stay tuned! Recall that Microsoft offered a program in that vein via TerraServer, but it never seemed to take off. Google, for its part, has been partnering on a one off basis with communities and sometimes states to offer up their imagery in Google Maps and Google Earth. One state GIS coordinator noted to me a few years ago posted his imagery to Google Earth kept a lot of public traffic of his servers, making analytical work move much faster. It’s worth noting that even as this announcement is going live the Virtual Earth for Government blog notes that Portugal just offered up not only imagery, but a new DEM for use in Virtual Earth. The post requests other government (US or outside) who want to post their archived imagery to contact the team.
The Cities in 3D initiative may well be another situation where Google gets there first, makes it easy to participate and provides back something of value to sometimes cash strapped local governments.