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Shanghai scientists working to prepare 3D models based on pictures taken from helicopter

China, 21 February 2007 – Shanghai scientists have developed a three-dimensional (3D) mapping system that will allow users to see the sides of buildings. The Shanghai Evening Post reported the development under the headline “Shanghai map challenging Google Earth”, but Shu Rong, the leader of the team at Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics said that the team’s 3D mapping technology was still in the early stages of development and not quite ready for practical use.

“We can create vivid digital maps with this system. Users will feel like they are hovering above a place when they look at the map,” Shu said. “For example, we can design a 3D map for the World Expo park. With the aid of a webcam, users can get vivid pictures of a specific area – what the surroundings are like and whether a place is crowded.”

Shu and his colleagues have created a 3D map of parts of Suzhou. The 3D models are based on pictures taken from a helicopter equipped with special perspective-adjusting equipment. “We need to learn about the specific angles from which each picture was taken and then calculate the mapping,” he said.

“This approach is efficient, but expensive.” A single hour-long flight costs 50,000 yuan ($6,448). However, the high-definition pictures allow people to zoom in to clearly see the buildings. “We flew a bit too high this time, but we think the pictures can be reproduced more clearly,” Shu said.

Many scientists in China have been working on 3D imaging by taking pictures at the street level. And their counterparts in Western countries are at work on several other approaches to the technology. “We’d like to co-operate with Google Earth or other international companies, and put this technology in use,” Shu said. “We’re also hoping to push forward China’s work in areas like this.”

He added that the goal of 3D mapping was to provide access to public spaces without invading people’s privacy. 3D mapping holds out the possibility of changing the way people use maps. “If this technology is linked to the GPS orientation system, it will be convenient to use,” said Xia Zheng, a young white collar.