Redmond, Washington, USA, 16 May 2006 – Microsoft released new technology on May 15 that it says would allow users to take existing road maps and satellite imagery, and overlay it with specialized maps to create imagery for their specific needs. The technology has been made available as a free download called MapCruncher.
Billed as an API for the non-programming masses the Microsoft Research team says MapCruncher will do for mashups what Word did for documents. From the Overview at Microsoft Research, where the program can be downloaded: The Virtual Earth API allows web developers to supplement Virtual Earth’s maps with pushpins and lines. MapCruncher brings mashups to a whole new level by allowing developers to import entire maps to supplement the existing road and aerial imagery with detailed, application-specific information. The possibilities are endless: bicycle maps, transit maps, national park maps, university maps, antique city maps, or whatever scale maps you personally find interesting.
The MapCruncher interface consists of two panes, with a control panel on left side. The right hand pane will show imagery from Virtual Earth using Microsoft’s Windows Live Local service. In the center pane, the user would be able to navigate to maps they’d like to “mash-up” with the Virtual Earth imagery. From there, the user can select points on each map that correspond and move them to match. When done, the program will render a completed map with the supplemental data superimposed on the Virtual Earth Map. MapCruncher accepts both drawing formats (PDF, WMF, EMF) and image formats (JPG, PNG, TIFF, GIF, BMP). The MapCruncher application requires Windows Server 2003 or Windows XP. It also requires the .Net 2.0 runtime, which it will install if necessary. In addition to releasing MapCruncher as a free download (zip), Microsoft Research has also created a gallery of MapCruncher maps for people to peruse.
The project was the brainchild of Microsoft researchers Jon Howell and Jeremy Elson. The two, which are avid cyclists, thought of the idea after looking at a cycling map of King County in Washington State for routes to work. However, one of the routes appeared to be interrupted by a freeway. After using TerraServer, they discovered that the freeway could be crossed via a pedestrian bridge. “In fact,” Elson says, “I use this route all the time now.” “MapCruncher empowers anybody in the world to take whatever data is important to them, and share it with everybody else in a format that makes all of these types of data interoperable,” explains Elson, who is also the project lead.
“It takes 10 minutes, basically, to do the whole thing,” Elson says. “For a complicated map, it might take 20.” He added that the service is easy enough for most to use, and has built in error correction features to assist users in creating accurate maps. Elson notes that the possibilities for created maps can be endless, and they could be tailored to match the user’s interests and needs. Response within Microsoft has been extremely positive, with employees suggesting a wide array of features and possible uses.