At Searchification a couple of weeks back, the new features coming in Live Search Maps were shown for the first time to some press and bloggers in anticipation of the release. The bits are finally aligned and in the hands of our ops team for deployment this week. I'll have full coverage here as soon as the release is publicly accessible, so check back in a few days for that. for a peek at what's coming, I'll tell you about my favorite new feature - Birds Eye navigation in 3D. Why it's my favorite is hard to say; it might be because it appeals equally to both sides of my brain. on one hand it is a great bit of engineering excellence and on the other it is a work of interactive art that's just plain fun to use. For background, its important to understand the challenges of visualizing our Birds eye imagery in a seamless mosaic the way we are all used to looking at satellite imagery that looks straight down at earth.* Since all of the images are shot from the same point of view, it's relatively easy to stitch them together in a convincing tapestry. There's still challenges like doing good color balancing across images and rectifying so that buildings in tall cities don't appear to butt heads, but these are pretty well understood problems. Birds eye images are a different story. because of the way they are captured, there is no easy way to stitch them at their edges without introducing nasty distortions. The result is that Birds eye imagery is viewed as discrete 'scenes' instead of 1 giant tapestry. when you navigate to the edge of the current scene, the most appropriate next scene is dynamically determined, then displayed. Since Birds eye imagery is captured from 4 angles, we have North, South, East and west views of each point on earth adding another dimension of complexity to navigation.

In 3D, the same challenges remain, but are easier to address with client side managed code. the result is a user interface that borrows concepts from MSR's Photosysnth to allow you to navigate more fluidly and naturally than what is possible with a javascript based client. its totally sick. check out this clip to see it in action-

The low res video hardly does justice to the actual experience, but shortly you'll be able to play with it yourself if you're browsing the web in Firefox or IE on Windows. other os's and browsers can still travel around in Birds eye in '2D' - which is funny because I always hear people referring to Birds Eye as Virtual Earth 3D. hopefully the line is pleasantly blurred now so that us nerds won't have to split hairs.

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