Microsoft’s Global Ortho (GO) project aims to capture the entire continental United States and Western Europe at a spatial resolution of 30 centimetres, using UltraCamG digital aerial cameras. The GO project produced the first imagery in August 2010 and has to date captured 46% of the area and published 2.21km2. The entire project is scheduled for completion by June 2012, to be followed by a three-year refresh cycle. The author discusses the GO project, as well as features of the UltraCamG and the new UltraCam Eagle digital aerial cameras. The latter was launched as a commercial offering in May 2011.
Microsoft has been in the mapping business for more than a decade, with the consumer trips planning programme Streets and Trips as one of its first mapping products. During development, a massive database of map vector data and imagery were collected. Most of these data were initially acquired from third-party sources. But to improve its mapping offerings the company’s Virtual Earth business unit I acquired Vexcel Imaging GmbH, manufacturer of UltraCam aerial cameras and specialised in photogrammetry and 2D and 3D imagery in May 2006. This enabled Microsoft to establish its photogrammetry division and enter the aerial digital camera business, making and selling the UltraCam line of cameras as well as using them to collect map data. The legacy of the camera business allows Microsoft to understand the end-to-end collection and processing of imagery. Today it provides maps and imagery to both consumers, through Bing Maps, and to businesses by enabling a web services API that allows enterprises to write software and access Microsoft’s database. Businesses use the API for routing delivery trucks and other internal purposes, as well as providing information to consumers such as store locations.