with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Riding With the Urban Mappers

Amazon.com’s A9.com Project Team is mapping the United States. Riding With the Urban Mappers tells of how this team of experts developing “block-view technology” which A9.com began this spring, allowing users to “virtually stroll city streets to get directions and identify local businesses.”

The group travels via two utility trucks with a video camera on top, and has photo-mapped 20 major American cities (about 30 million images) as part of “an aggressive rollout, capturing, by their estimate, storefront images for 1 million of the 14 million small businesses in the United States.”

The goal is to create a “Yellow Pages pedestrian view” for users to find their way around. With buildings as landmarks in addition to street names, how can you possibly get lost?

The photography technology behind this is amazing. A “consumer-grade digital video camera”, running constantly, feeds the images a laptop computer at 30 frames per second. This is, they say, good enough for image stills to create the “A9.com Möbius strip” of images, which, when compiled, will present a 360 degree view of the area. The laptop is connected to portable hard drives for additional storage, and a GPS helps to log locations. A gyroscope is attached to the truck’s accelerator, which “helps determine relative position where satellite line of sight is unavailable.” This invention calculates time and speed between recorded GPS points, helping fill in the gaps called “GPS urban canyons.”

This is taking digital photography to new heights – well, at least to street level heights.

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