As technologies have evolved over millennia, so have the ways in which we’ve mapped the world. But the reasons we map remain the same. From geographic discovery, exploration, and storytelling to the more practical purposes of measuring the earth and communicating geographic information–we’re constantly driven to visually represent, replicate, and share our views of the world.
Over the past two decades, Google has been at the forefront of transforming the role that maps play in our daily lives. From the introduction of internet search–made globally accessible through the mobile revolution–and paralleled by advancements in geomatics technology and computer vision, we’ve been able to put trusted world maps and imagery immediately into the palm of everyone’s hands.
Immersive maps for your business
According to a 2023 report from McKinsey, “consumers are increasingly seeking more immersive brand experiences and demanding the ability to interact with products and brands before making a purchase.” Consumer brands are amongst the first to understand the value of immersive experiences, but they’re not the only companies that are able to tap into immersive experiences to achieve their goals.
Immersive experiences can be used to improve internal operations, drive customer engagement, accelerate sales, enhance training programs, and much more. Research by CapGemini revealed that two in three of the executives they surveyed mentioned that their employees believe that immersive technologies will help them do their jobs better. Another two in three say their organizations have developed a short-term roadmap for immersive initiatives.
It seems everyone in any industry can benefit from an immersive map that brings to life whatever story they want to tell. We believe now is the time for organizations to explore how they can use AR, VR, and 3D technologies to improve customer experiences and internal operations or workflows.
Alberto Taiuti, an augmented reality expert passionate about geospatial applications, used Photorealistic 3D Tiles to create a real-time guided tour editor of Florence, Italy from his browser.
At Google Maps Platform, we want everyone to build better maps by leveraging the underlying geospatial technologies that we use to build Google Maps and Google Earth. That’s why we recently released Photorealistic 3D Tiles using the OGC standard format 3D Tiles. This is Google’s image textured 3D mesh model of the real-world that has been used by Google Earth for over a decade.
Launched amidst the rapidly conflating landscape of Generative AI (GenAI), extended reality (XR), spatial computing and new imaging technologies, this flexible 3D geodataset enables any organization to quickly lean into new kinds of immersive 3D maps for world-scale geographic storytelling and communication.
Immersive maps are ones that trigger the map reader’s available senses such as sight, sound, touch, and even time, to help them better understand geographic context and place-based storytelling, and to access memory and even emotions about the world. When achieved, immersive maps become powerful storytelling tools on any platform.
The New York Times used Google’s Photorealistic 3D Tiles to visualize the pre-fire landscape of Lahaina in its reconstruction of the catastrophic 2023 Maui wildfire.
Photorealistic 3D Tiles, as a foundational 3D geodata product, is already helping businesses lean into new immersive experiences. For example, architecture software companies can now show how a proposed new building will complement the existing cityscape by using a photorealistic 3D backdrop behind a building information modeling (BIM) model in VR or AR.
Cesium’s 3D Tiles renderer can be used to visualize new building developments against a realistic 3D backdrop and weather animations.
This is also a useful application for real estate companies that are building toolchains to analyze investments or communicate property information.
BNP Paribas Real Estate, a European commercial property company, uses their own data and public open data to give a holistic view of the city to urban planners, investors, and commercial real estate customers.
Maps that delight our many senses
To build for everyone means to accept that not everyone senses the world in the same way. Physical abilities, including map cognition (in any dimension), and challenges like access to technology and information, are accessibility challenges in our communities that we need to address if immersive maps are ultimately to be experienced by everyone.
As we continue our journey to help everyone build more immersive maps, we’re thinking beyond just imagery and towards customized multi-sensory geospatial experiences. This reminds us that maps are not only about accurate measurements of the earth and producing precise technical replicas. The spirit of a map (as a human cultural artifact) is still deeply rooted in geographic discovery, exploration, and storytelling.
Both digital and physical technologies will continue to evolve, and in the next few decades we’ll experience even more revolutionary breakthroughs that will irrevocably conflate the geospatial community with XR and AI. Geodata creation will likely become increasingly cheaper and less specialized, spatial computing technology will become baseline and more content will be consumed in XR. Less time will be spent dealing with cross-platform interoperability, and more time will be spent conveying information through immersive maps.
For instance, how might we combine haptic responses in wearable technologies with a visual heads-up AR map to help improve last mile deliveries? How might we teach world history differently with spatial audio layered on top of an historical 3D map? How might we enable more citizens to participate in evaluating new urban development proposals from home, without having to interpret technical site plans in person? How might we leverage large language models (LLMs) in shared XR to help a group of friends collaborate on a travel adventure together, or replay travel memories in 4D as movies built with generative AI?
We’re inspired by this vision. We encourage players in this space to start with 3D maps as part of your workflows and toolchains and find opportunities to test and build immersive experiences into your applications. Let’s collaborate, cross-pollinate, and drive innovation to build a better, more immersive future for everyone.
The Street View Trekker, a 360-degree and 140-megapixel camera system with laser sensors mounted onto a wearable backpack that can quickly create a digital map of the area, is just one of the creative ways Google has mapped the world.
GOOGLE MAPS PLATFORM