Navteq touts 3D laser mapping technology

The Nokia subsidiary's True system can gather 150 million 3D data points per second. Navteq also is now selling 3D models of some cities.

Navteq has begun collecting data to construct detailed 3D models and maps of the United States, the digital-mapping specialist said Wednesday.

The Nokia subsidiary has begun outfitting its data collection vehicles with a system called Navteq True. One big part is a lidar (light detection and ranging) system that uses lasers to construct 3D maps of the world out of a sea of data points. The company boasts that its True system uses 64 rotating lidar lasers, captures 1.5 million 3D data points per second from features as far as 150 meters away and works even when the data collection vehicle is traveling at highway speeds.

This Navteq system uses 64 lasers to gather 3D data about the world from mapping vehicles.
This Navteq system uses 64 lasers to gather 3D data about the world from mapping vehicles. Navteq

3D mapping may sound like a research project, but it's the kind of thing that can dramatically improve online maps and car navigation devices.

Working in concert with the lasers are high-resolution panoramic cameras and devices called Inertial Measurement Units--IMUs--that can precisely gauge road curvature and slope, the company said.

The move spotlights the growing trend to create detailed computer models of the world through ground-based, aerial, and satellite photography. Second Life's virtual world still attracts some users, but a computer representation of the real world is useful to a broader audience. GPS navigation devices are one obvious way, but people also increasingly use mobile phones to find out where they are and what's nearby.

With some 3D data now in hand, Navteq has begun selling what it calls Enhanced 3D City Models. It can be used in navigation devices to give people in cars or on foot a better graphical idea of their surroundings, the company said.

Navteq said it's showing off a True-equipped data collection vehicle and the 3D city maps at CES in Las Vegas this week.

The Enhanced 3D City Models are available for the United States, with Europe, Asia, and South American models scheduled to arrive later this year. The True system is being deployed in the United States first, with Europe to follow soon and Asia coming later in 2010.

Navteq's move to slurp up 3D data is no surprise. Microsoft said in December that its Bing Maps service will use the Navteq 3D imagery.

Google has been collecting its own Street View imagery with 3D laser technology since at least 2008.

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