Wednesday, May 08, 2024

The Future of Street View

animated GIF of a gaussian splatting 3d model of a street scene embedded into Google Maps

In 2007 Google began adding 360 degree panoramic images to Google Maps. It is no exaggeration to say that the introduction of Street View revolutionized online mapping. Now users could not only zoom into their neighborhoods in satellite view but they could also virtually explore their area in Street View.

It is almost impossible to predict the next major revolution in online mapping. For a couple of years now I've been thinking that photogrammetry was going to provide the next break-through in the online mapping experience. The amazing virtual 3D model of Tunet på Havrå, and those exhibited on Iconem Exploration hint at one way an accurate interactive 3D virtual map of Earth could be created using models created through photogrammetry.

Creating a high-fidelity global 3D map of Earth enhanced with interactive photogrammetry models of key locations is a huge complex task which requires access to a huge number of high-resolution images. Creating a photogrammetry model of a location on its own is still an intensive task. Once a 3D model has been created making it accessible on a 3D map, and user & device friendly is pushing the boundaries of what is currently technically achievable.

One thing that may accelerate this process is Gaussian Splatting. Gaussian splatting is a relatively new technique in computer graphics used for rendering 3D scenes. It is able to create 3D models from multiple images of a scene by creating a point cloud. Gaussian splatting excels at capturing details in 3D scenes. By adjusting the size and distribution of Gaussians, it is possible to focus detail on specific areas without needing complex geometric models. In short it has huge potential for creating high-quality 3D scenes.

Kieran Farr has created a Splats and Map demo which embeds a 3D Gaussian Splatting model of a street scene into an interactive Google Map. As you can see from the animated GIF above a 3D model has some huge advantages over Google Maps Street View. Instead of being confined to navigating from one 360 degree panoramic image the user is free to pan and move around a 3D scene at will. 

One of the most impressive aspects of Kieran's demo is the speed at which the map works on even fairly low level devices. It suggests that it is possible to create an interactive map which incorporates a few 3D models of important locations within a city. It isn't even too hard to imagine that in a few years time Google Maps will be one huge interactive 3D model of the Earth.

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