6. PHOTOGRAMMETRY & MICROSOFT

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The UltraCam story would be incomplete without a view of the effect of Microsoft on photogrammetry and vice-versa. 

 

6.1 BING Maps

Microsoft’s mapping history started in ~ 1995. Initial products were Streets & Trips, later Map-Point, based on street vector data. Mapping-related projects included the TerraServer (undated), Encarta (undated) and flight simulation.  The advent of the Internet has broadened the applicability of Map-Point to travel planning and directions, and GPS positioning resulted in the applicability of mapping data to navigation. However, Microsoft’s personnel would not associate itself with photogrammetry. The association was strictly with computer vision and computer graphics.

 

By 2005, images started to augment the street vectors, and 3D information began to support search. This marked the transition from Map-Point to Virtual Earth with the idea of searching the Internet in a location-aware manner and possibly in an AR [Augmented-Reality] environment. Virtual Earth was later renamed BING-Maps.

 

Microsoft’s approach to address this new requirement for geo-imagery was, in analogy to Google’s, to acquire an existing company so that the skill sets missing at Microsoft in the image-based mapping arena would be added externally. Microsoft’s choice was Vexcel Corporation and Vexcel Imaging GmbH. Today, the Colorado-location of Microsoft in Boulder has morphed into BING Imagery Technologies and is the main site for BING-Maps and the Global Ortho Project.

 

High quality aerial photography is essential to Microsoft’s automated workflows for 2D and 3D mapping data. It is for this reason that – contrary to pundit’s opinions [see Petrie, 2006] – Microsoft has maintained its interest in aerial cameras for over 5 years and continues to support the evolution of digital camera technology and products at its Austrian site. Additionally, this Austrian site also delivers computer vision components and algorithms.

 

6.2 Photosynth, Neo-Photogrammetry and MAV-Imagery

Photosynth had been a computer vision development via the cooperation between the University of Washington computer vision team and Microsoft Research (Snavely et al., 2006). It has been developed into an operational service available globally (Agűera y Arcas, 2007).  The value of Photosynth has been recognized, and organizationally it has been moved into the Colorado Bing-Imagery Technologies team.  

 

Photosynth is at the heart of a development towards urban mapping by means of amateur photography. The designation “neo-photogrammetry” describes the novel phenomenon of citizen’s amateur digital photography, accompanied by GPS-based positioning, uploaded to an Internet website and serving as the basis for 3D mapping (Leberl, 2010a, b).

 

The UltraMap-development into fully automated aerial triangulation, dense matching and orthophoto production is applicable to neo-photogrammetric approaches.  Additionally, the same high-overlaps-mapping paradigm is applicable to novel Micro-Aviation Vehicles MAVs as an additional path into the future of image-based mapping (Wendel et al., 2012).

 

6.3 Microsoft Research

The acquisition of Vexcel by Microsoft has resulted in the awareness at Microsoft how photogrammetry skills differ from computer science and computer vision. At the same time, access to Microsoft’s research and development resources can greatly inspire progress and innovation. First examples have already become visible in the form of Seadragon and Photosynth (Reitinger et al., 2008). The evolution of neo-photogrammetric approaches in an Internet-context hold great promise for a much enhanced role for photogrammetry.