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Google Maps Adds Drone Imagery 141

Posted by timothy
from the hook-'em-horns-but-closer dept.
joshuadugie writes "Slashdot carried a story a while ago that Google had purchased drones for unknown purposes. Google Maps has now added new non-satellite imagery (at UT Austin, for example) when you zoom in close enough. Mystery solved!" I'd like to think that there really are (or were) drones over Austin, but would also like to see Google's explanation for the close-up images.
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Google Maps Adds Drone Imagery

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  • It's old news (Score:4, Informative)

    by sanchom (1681398) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @10:53PM (#33904108) [] Just starting to be available in more places it looks like.
  • by MWP-AU (538054) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:00PM (#33904170) Homepage
    Actually, yes, sort of... the majority of the higher res images on Google Maps, is taken from light aircraft fitted with specialized camera equipment.
    The imagery is taken most for surveying, council and real-estate uses, not for applications like Google Maps.
    I would bet the Austin imagery is also done this way.

    As an example, [] offers quite high res imagery.
    Its mentioned here they the photos are taken with low flying aircraft: []
  • by east coast (590680) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:05PM (#33904200)
    It seems that this is a joint effort with Sanborn given the copyright notice on the bottom of the image. Sanborn uses LiDAR [] as one of it's tools.

    I'd also like to note that Bing has had areas covered with a similar angular mapping for a while. Their images are tagged with the name Pictometry [].

    So, yes, it seems it is a "guy taking pictures out of a Cessna". Or something close to it.
  • It's not drones (Score:4, Informative)

    by deapbluesea (1842210) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:08PM (#33904222)

    Drones are illegal in the US without a Certificate to Operate from the FAA. The FAA does not provide CtO's lightly, nor have they ever granted one for operation over a populated area...and before anyone links to DIY Drones, this rule is for corporations, not individuals who operate under r/c rules (under 400 ft AGL, within sight without any vision enhancement devices such as binoculars).

  • by colinnwn (677715) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:11PM (#33904244)
    My brother used to work as a commercial real estate appraiser. He talked to one of the first guys in Texas (perhaps the US) who retrofitted his Cessna with a viewport, a fancy DSLR, and a laptop. He flew around Houston and other cities in TX once a year or on demand, and took high res images that his software stitched together later. It may not be economical compared to a drone, but it was affordable, especially compared to satellite imagery at the time.

    Were Google's drones just RC craft piloted by a certified pilot on the ground? I thought automated aircraft (no pilot) and RC craft flown by non-pilots were not allowed in controlled airspace in the USA.
  • Re:It's old news (Score:3, Informative)

    by joshuadugie (1718208) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:19PM (#33904300)
    Could be. I tried checking: [], and on there, "Aerial" isn't an option on the embedded maps, but instead "45" is when you roll-over on "Sat". On the linked map in the submission, you get to the aerial view by explicitly choosing "aerial," which implied to me that it was a different method.
  • by Urza9814 (883915) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:27PM (#33904338)

    Google Maps, AFAIK, has _always_ included non-satellite imagery. Higher resolution images have _always_ been from aerial photographs taken by aircraft. From the Google Blog, a few days ago:

    ...The folks who created Google Earth devised a way to stitch aerial and satellite imagery together into a seamless, searchable map of the world and make it available to anyone with a computer... []

  • I thought automated aircraft (no pilot) and RC craft flown by non-pilots were not allowed in controlled airspace in the USA.

    Not all US airspace is controlled - in fact, the vast majority is not, particularly at the low altitudes you'd need to be flying at to get this kind of imagery.

  • by icebike (68054) on Friday October 15, 2010 @12:53AM (#33904714)

    Ummm.... if it's "non-satellite imagery," where else could it be from?
    I'd think a guy taking pictures out of a Cessna wouldn't be very economical long-term compared to a drone.

    Lots of imagery on Google Earth and Google Maps is non-satellite imagery when you zoom in close. Look at Downtown Seattle some time. You can see the sides of buildings.

    Google gets images from a lot of places. In the case of Seattle and NYC the images were taken by aircraft under contract to the city for their own use, and purchased by Google. The resolution is almost as good as the UT Austin images. You can see some weird leaning buildings in Google Earth.

    These images were there long before Google even announced the purchase of these drones.

  • by mysidia (191772) on Friday October 15, 2010 @02:29AM (#33905108)

    You can probably get a plane and a pilot for less than 100 an hour.

    Eh? Even if you dig for the lowest of the low, novice pilots you are paying the pilot $25 an hour, more unless they are your employee, which doesn't include things like plane, fuel, or insurance. Current typical airplane fuel costs are $5 [minimum] per gallon.

    If flying even the lightest turboprop imaginable, this still will consumes approximately 7 gallons of fuel per hour, probably more by the time they've gotten all their various computer equipment and cameras on board for mapping.

    All said and done, a minimum $50 for fuel + $25 pilot = $75.

    Unless the plane is a 30 year old death trap, it's unlikely its owner will rent it to you for a mere $25 an hour.

    It might be cheaper to just buy/license the media from some other company who already got that particular footage, or buy the assets from the company when they're having a fire sale / liquidation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 15, 2010 @02:54AM (#33905228)

    Several prominent features of Eastwoods Park just north west of UT Austin are missing in these photos showing that their age to be at least 4 years old, taken well before they made their German micro-drone purchase. Various other construction and deconstruction projects around the area of viewable non-satallite imagery confirm that these are all old aerial photos of several years in age.

  • Re:Is this awful? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Jesse_vd (821123) on Friday October 15, 2010 @03:47AM (#33905418)
    I see "Texas Orthoimagery Program" which lead me to this
  • by erikscott (1360245) on Friday October 15, 2010 @10:24AM (#33907788)
    Unmanned vehicles are, by regulation, not feasible for commercial use in the US. Having been through this with sciences and engineering departments at two universities (jointly operated institute), I can tell you with certainty that you wouldn't believe the hassle. To fly a UAV, you need a type certified UAV for US airspace, and there aren't any, and it will be decades before there are. So you have to do an individual, case-by-case type approval. It takes months, it takes engineers, and it takes lawyers. Then you have to have a pilot with an IFR rating file the flight plan. Then you have to have positive surveillance of your Area of Operations (AoO) - you're allowed to use either radar or a chase plane. The (manned) chase plane is cheaper, by the way. Oh, and you have to show that no manned aircraft is suitable for your mission (and if your mission is "training undergraduate aerospace engineers how to design, build, and operate UAVs", then it's easier).

    Far, far easier is to work with the National Guard to use the no-fly zone over Ft. Bragg or some other similar federal installations.

    Compare this with the fact that you can rent a small plane, a pilot, and a camera for less than $200/hr *right this minute* and you'll see why no one even bothers with UAVs, except as research projects.

    You can only operate under the model aircraft rules if you aren't being paid, and no, you can't just claim you're taking a vacation day. The university would have to testify that you stole the UAV if anything happened.

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.