Quentin Hardy at Forbes Magazine today points out the Bing Maps "Global Ortho Project" that has a goal to create a "uniform, detailed map of the Continental United States and 17 countries in Western and Central Europe". The results are spectacular -- a single view of about 7 million square miles, with relatively even lighting and height, at a granularity of about 30 centimeters of land per pixel of image.
"It's an impressive home-grown undertaking -- Google gets its images from many sources, and while they are decent, they change as you go from one location to another, or zoom in on something. And, to do it, Microsoft developed its own highly efficient camera, and mounted it in several planes that were also loaded with 13 PCs for image processing. It then flew the planes north/south (for light standardization), in lines about eight kilometers apart, at 17,000 feet, shooting 220 megapixels every 2 seconds."
"They've been quietly rolling much of this into Bing Maps for several months, and about 25% of the total is up, with more coming on every day. Total miles flown: about 730,000. Cost: about $130 million. No plans to do Asia as of now."
See the difference for yourself by playing around -- zoom in, change angles -- with these comparisons (sorry, once you click the address you have to click on "bird's eye" in the drop down just above the map to get Bing's version -- Google still gets to its addressing):
Hardy speculates, and rightly so, that Microsoft's hoping not just for bragging rights here, but a chance to win people over from Google with this improved map service. Google announced a cloud-based mapping service dubbed Google Earth Builder for business, and Microsoft may head there with a better-quality product.
Here's Microsoft's video about the project, with some interesting footage: