View Full Version : A 3-D program puts a new spin on Earth

I. M. Esperto
22nd Apr 2002, 13:33

Copyright 2001 The International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com

A 3-D program puts a new spin on Earth
Neil McManus The New York Times
Monday, April 22, 2002

For anyone who has ever dreamed of flying like a hawk over buildings, streets and trees, a Web-based program offers bird's-eye views of the planet.

EarthViewer 3D, from Keyhole, lets users navigate through aerial photographs wrapped around a 3-D representation of the globe. As a user dives toward Earth, the program redraws to the screen at a video-game-like 60 frames a second.

Up to now, the primary users of EarthViewer 3D have been real-estate agents and city planners, who paid yearly subscriptions of $1,200. But starting next month, a deal between Keyhole and Nvidia, a maker of specialty computer chips, will bring the software to consumers.

Nvidia will bundle a six-month trial version of EarthViewer 3D with some models of its 3-D graphics cards, which are sold as PC add-ons and are included as built-ins in 60 percent of new PCs. With the card, a user will be able to buy a one-year subscription to EarthViewer 3D for $79. The price of the commercial version of EarthViewer, which has additional features, will drop to $599.

A trial version is available at EarthViewer's Internet site (www. earthviewer.com). Those who fill out a form on the site receive a password by e-mail that will expire after two weeks.

The program must be run on a Windows-based PC with a broadband connection. Viewers start with an image of a globe, which can be spun with the mouse. Selecting a point and diving in, a user begins to see mountains, deserts and lakes, then cities and buildings, and then backyard swimming pools and cars. Viewers can see clearly, for instance, two elephants in a yard at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

On-screen sliding controls let users zoom in and out and tilt the viewing angle to see terrain in 3-D.

Keyhole licenses hundreds of thousands of aerial and satellite photographs. Satellite images provide the program's faraway views, and high-resolution aerial photographs provide close-ups of more than 50 metropolitan areas, primarily in the United States and Japan.

John Hanke, Keyhole's chief executive, said EarthViewer would include 250 major cities by 2005. Paris and other European cities will become available in the coming months.

Keyhole updates EarthViewer's images every 18 months, Hanke said, but it can do so more quickly. A week after the Sept. 11 attacks, for example, Keyhole updated EarthViewer to include a close-up of ground zero.

To gear up for the consumer market, Keyhole has been adding a feature to EarthViewer that includes additional levels of data. The feature, which can be turned on or off, labels street names and lets users see icons over schools, churches, hotels, grocery stores, restaurants - whatever the user chooses to highlight. Clicking on an icon summons the name, address, phone number and Web link of the establishment. Keyhole will soon add layers that enable users to read restaurant reviews and to book hotels, Hanke said.

Copyright 2001 The International Herald Tribune