Video Walkthrough of C3 Technologies' 3D Mapping Process

Tuesday November 1, 2011 1:11 AM PDT by Arnold Kim
Over the weekend, there was a report that Apple did indeed acquire 3D mapping company C3 Technologies. In our original profile of the company, we mentioned that it was purchased in part from Saab AB, a Swedish aerospace and defense company.

The technology had originally been developed for military purposes such as missile targetting. Here's a video of how the mapping data is obtained:


Technology Review previously described the process:
C3's models are generated with little human intervention. First, a plane equipped with a custom-designed package of professional-grade digital single-lens reflex cameras takes aerial photos. Four cameras look out along the main compass points, at oblique angles to the ground, to image buildings from the side as well as above. Additional cameras (the exact number is secret) capture overlapping images from their own carefully determined angles, producing a final set that contains all the information needed for a full 3-D rendering of a city's buildings. Machine-vision software developed by C3 compares pairs of overlapping images to gauge depth, just as our brains use stereo vision, to produce a richly detailed 3-D model.

Top Rated Comments

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Posted: 40 months ago
It is incredible.

I still find even the regular Google Maps to be an amazing achievement. A data-set of photos covering the entire planet at pretty close range. And we all have access. For free. That's insanely great in my book.
Rating: 6 Votes
Posted: 40 months ago

I believe that's London, not San Francisco.


Yeah, Big Ben and Wimbley kind of give it away. :D
Rating: 3 Votes
Posted: 40 months ago

Does anybody else realize that they are physically going to have to fly over the entire earth every time they want to update buildings, roads, etc and then generate the data? The way the video describes, it seems dreadfully slow...

the surface area of the USA alone about 10 Million km^2. Which translates to 100,000 flying hours. Which translates to 500,000 hours to interpret and graph the data. Assuming 12 hours a day (daylight hours, and this is generous due to storms etc) for flights it would take nearly 23 years of flight time (obviously they would use more than one aircraft) to create just the US. And data interpretation 24/7 for the US would take 57 years. Even if they set up 100 data interpreting stations across the US it would take over half a year to generate the data.

Then land area of the whole world is about 150 million km^2 (or 510 million if you want to also include oceans).To keep the mapping update process under a year you would need nearly 1,000 data interpreting stations and over 300 aircraft. It's all possible, but just seems like a logistical nightmare, especially for something so far outside Apple's expertise.

I'm wondering how frequently Apple would update the maps.... And if Apple didn't update the maps it would become outdated pretty quickly.



I wonder how long it took that one google street view van to drive on every single road in the world.
Rating: 2 Votes
Posted: 40 months ago

Does anybody else realize that they are physically going to have to fly over the entire earth every time they want to update buildings, roads, etc and then generate the data? The way the video describes, it seems dreadfully slow...

the surface area of the USA alone about 10 Million km^2. Which translates to 100,000 flying hours. Which translates to 500,000 hours to interpret and graph the data. Assuming 12 hours a day (daylight hours) for flights it would take nearly 23 years of flight time (obviously they would use more than one aircraft) to create just the US. And data interpretation 24/7 for the US would take 57 years. Even if they set up 100 data interpreting stations across the US it would take over half a year to generate the data.

Then land area of the whole world is about 150 million km^2 (or 510 million if you want to also include oceans).To keep the mapping update process under a year you would need nearly 1,000 data interpreting stations and over 300 aircraft. It's all possible, but just seems like a logistical nightmare, especially for something so far outside Apple's expertise.

I'm wondering how frequently Apple would update the maps.... And if Apple didn't update the maps it would become outdated pretty quickly.


Perhaps satellites can be used to update much of the initial imagery, heck you can read the label on a can of beans from space these days.

Which brings up another point ... When will Apple have their own satellites to augment iCloud? They can afford it ;)
Rating: 2 Votes
Posted: 40 months ago

I know I've already posted but PLEASE!!! look at Nokia 3D mapping. I stumbled upon it by accident but the quality seems as good as the second video in this thread - and the loading time quicker.


That's cool, Chris. But I think you don't realize that Nokia/Ovi technology was actually licensed from C3 Technologies (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/19/idUS246491+19-Apr-2011+BW20110419).

So... they look the same... because they ARE the same... but the point is that apparently now Apple owns the technology. :D
Rating: 2 Votes
Posted: 40 months ago


more video on an ipad
Rating: 1 Votes
Posted: 40 months ago

So, is it acquired by Apple and Saab together?


Hardly. SAAB is licensing the technology from C3.
Rating: 1 Votes
Posted: 40 months ago

Does anybody else realize that they are physically going to have to fly over the entire earth every time they want to update buildings, roads, etc and then generate the data? The way the video describes, it seems dreadfully slow...
The surface area of the USA alone about 10 Million km^2. Which translates to 100,000 flying hours. Which translates to 500,000 hours to interpret and graph the data. Assuming 12 hours a day for flights it would take nearly 23 years of flight time to create just the US. And data interpretation 24/7 for the US would take 57 years.
I'm wondering how frequently Apple would update the maps.... And if Apple didn't update the maps it would become outdated pretty quickly.


But you aren't likely to see updates of places that don't need them, so maybe urban centers get updated but 99% of the world is exactly the same year to year. The Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains and Alaska don't tend to change, and they make up the bulk of the surface area of our country. If they make the map high enough quality the first time i see no reason to update the majority of it ever again, unless of course systems become available to make it more accurate or of a greater resolution.
Rating: 1 Votes
Posted: 40 months ago

Does anybody else realize that they are physically going to have to fly over the entire earth every time they want to update buildings, roads, etc and then generate the data? The way the video describes, it seems dreadfully slow...

the surface area of the USA alone about 10 Million km^2. Which translates to 100,000 flying hours. Which translates to 500,000 hours to interpret and graph the data. Assuming 12 hours a day (daylight hours, and this is generous due to storms etc) for flights it would take nearly 23 years of flight time (obviously they would use more than one aircraft) to create just the US. And data interpretation 24/7 for the US would take 57 years. Even if they set up 100 data interpreting stations across the US it would take over half a year to generate the data.

Then land area of the whole world is about 150 million km^2 (or 510 million if you want to also include oceans).To keep the mapping update process under a year you would need nearly 1,000 data interpreting stations and over 300 aircraft. It's all possible, but just seems like a logistical nightmare, especially for something so far outside Apple's expertise.

I'm wondering how frequently Apple would update the maps.... And if Apple didn't update the maps it would become outdated pretty quickly.


Just to put it in perspective, mapping of our planet has been going on for more that 2,000 year.

Rating: 1 Votes
Posted: 40 months ago
Does anybody else realize that they are physically going to have to fly over the entire earth every time they want to update buildings, roads, etc and then generate the data? The way the video describes, it seems dreadfully slow...

the surface area of the USA alone about 10 Million km^2. Which translates to 100,000 flying hours. Which translates to 500,000 hours to interpret and graph the data. Assuming 12 hours a day (daylight hours, and this is generous due to storms etc) for flights it would take nearly 23 years of flight time (obviously they would use more than one aircraft) to create just the US. And data interpretation 24/7 for the US would take 57 years. Even if they set up 100 data interpreting stations across the US it would take over half a year to generate the data.

Then land area of the whole world is about 150 million km^2 (or 510 million if you want to also include oceans).To keep the mapping update process under a year you would need nearly 1,000 data interpreting stations and over 300 aircraft. It's all possible, but just seems like a logistical nightmare, especially for something so far outside Apple's expertise.

I'm wondering how frequently Apple would update the maps.... And if Apple didn't update the maps it would become outdated pretty quickly.
Rating: 1 Votes

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