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Defense agency to use Microsoft's Virtual Earth

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to use mapping tech for "humanitarian, peacekeeping and national security efforts."

Microsoft is collaborating with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, a division of the Department of Defense, on its Virtual Earth technology.

The NGA wants to use the Virtual Earth technology "to provide geospatial support for humanitarian, peacekeeping and national security efforts," Microsoft said in a statement on Thursday.

In return, the Redmond, Wash., software giant hopes to gain from the organization's established knowledge of geospatial information and geodetics, the math and science of measuring portions of the Earth's topography, magnetic and gravitational variations, and geodynamic phenomenon.

The NGA is headquartered in Bethesda, Md., and "provides timely, relevant and accurate imagery, imagery intelligence and geospatial information in support of national security objectives," according to the government agency's Web site.

Microsoft also announced an agreement last week to provide its Virtual Earth technology to Real Tech, a provider of real estate tools. Similarly, the software giant in April signed a deal with Zillow to provide the real estate comparison Web site with Virtual Earth technology. At the time, Zillow explained that the Virtual Earth platform would provide it with both satellite and bird's-eye imagery.

Bird's-eye imagery is aerial photography taken from low-flying planes at a 45-degree angle, instead of from satellites, which give a different amount of detail.

While the NGA refers to itself as "a major combat support agency for the Department of Defense," it is unclear whether this technology will be applied to military strategy operations.