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

flottenheimer Avatar
164 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.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mdriftmeyer Avatar
164 months ago
I believe that's London, not San Francisco.

Yeah, Big Ben and Wimbley kind of give it away. :D
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Strod Avatar
164 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
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
wiz329 Avatar
164 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.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Digitalclips Avatar
164 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 ;)
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
fifthworld Avatar
164 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.

Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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