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Rich 3D imagery added to Google Earth

Google encourages users to help it create a "life-like 3D model of the whole planet." Images: Google Earth's 3D world

Users of Google's latest edition of its mapping application are now able to build and share rich 3D content.

Google Earth 4 is now a mixture of textured 3D renderings of famous architectural sites and terrain when the proper layers are turned on.

"It's just one more step on the path of creating a life-like 3D model of the whole planet," according to a Google statement on Monday.

While the company has added its own rich 3D renderings of famous places, it has yet to complete a model of the entire Earth. To speed up the process, the latest version of Google SketchUp will allow users to create rich 3D renderings of buildings as KML or KMZ files and share them as overlays on Google Earth. Keyhole Markup Language (KML) files are the Extensible Markup Language (XML) files used for modeling and storing features in Google Earth and Google Maps. (The compressed version is a KMZ.)

Google's 3D Warehouse is the repository for this new, rich 3D architecture. Without downloading Google Earth 4, users can search the Google 3D Warehouse to view these virtual structures. The models are classified by level of difficulty based on the number of polygons needed to construct them. Users can also rate and review the models.

Google Earth's data layers, which can be turned on or off with a check mark, allow users to choose to see all 3D structures, 3D Warehouse buildings or selections from the "Best of 3D Warehouse."

To further assist builders, Google's polygon drawing tools, which were previously available as part of , allow sketching on top of existing Google Earth imagery as a jumping off point to building a model from its footprint.

So far, many of the most famous architectural masterpieces are still needed. The Met Life building in New York, for example, towers over a gray box, in lieu of a rich 3D rendering of Grand Central Station. And the Louvre in Paris remains a flat satellite overview image, though the museum's controversial glass pyramid by I. M. Pei has been rendered.