Google Adds 3D Cities in Google Earth and Offline Google Maps for Android [Video]

New features in Google Maps will allow users of Google Earth to use their phones and tablets to virtually fly over entire cities.

Google Inc. has announced several new features for its mapping services, including 3D cityscapes in Google Earth, and an offline mode for its Google Maps Android application, the Internet search company’s latest step in its ambitious and sometimes controversial plan to create a digital map of the world.

“Since 2006, we’ve had textured 3D buildings in Google Earth, and today we are excited to announce that we will begin adding 3D models to entire metropolitan areas to Google Earth on mobile devices,” wrote Brian McClendon, vice president of engineering for Google Maps, in the company’s blog post.

McClendon said that the new views were possible thanks to “a combination of our new imagery rendering techniques and computer vision that let us automatically create 3D cityscapes, complete with buildings, terrain and even landscaping, from 45-degree aerial imagery.”

The internet search giant plans to release the first 3D-maps for several cities by the end of the year, the company said at a news conference at its San Francisco offices on Wednesday.

However, the company declined to name the cities, but it showed a demonstration of a 3D map of San Francisco, in which a user can navigate around an aerial view of the city.

“We’re trying to create the illusion that you’re just flying over the city, almost as if you were in your own personal helicopter,” said Peter Birch, a product manager for Google Earth.

Brian McClendon said that the company was using a fleet of airplanes owned and operated by contractors and flying exclusively for Google inc. He also added that Google aims to have 3D coverage for metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300 million people by the end of the year.

Google inc. has for years operated a fleet of camera-equipped cars that travel around the globe taking panoramic pictures of streets for its popular mapping service. The cars have raised privacy concerns in some countries.

In 2010, Google acknowledged that the so-called Street View cars had been inadvertently collecting emails, passwords and other personal data from people’s home wireless networks, reports  Reuters.

Collecting the Wi-Fi data was unrelated to the Google Maps project, and was done instead so that Google could collect data on Wi-Fi hotspots that can be used to provide separate location-based services.

Google’s announcement comes a week before Apple Inc’s developer conference in San Francisco, as competition between the two tech giants continues to heat up, particularly in the fast-growing mobile market.

Google’s McClendon said that there are currently 1 Billion monthly active users of Google maps services and that the Street View cars have driven more than 5 million miles photographing streets all over the world.

The company also announced that maps on mobile phones and tablets will now be easier to ‘pre-cache’ meaning they can be stored on a device and used without the need for a data connection. This is already offered on Android but is not a conspicuous feature, and Nokia has made a great virtue of its equivalent product’s ease of use on its new Windows Phone Mobiles.

Google has also announced that its Streetview mapping technology, which captures images and was previously used in cars for roads and on trolleys for art galleries, will now fit in a rucksack.

Mr McClendon claimed “Today, we’re taking another step forward with our Street View Trekker. You’ve seen our cars, trikes, snowmobiles and trolleys—but wheels only get you so far.”

“There’s a whole wilderness out there that is only accessible by foot. Trekker solves that problem by enabling us to photograph beautiful places such as the Grand Canyon so anyone can explore them,” he added.

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