Driving around with lasers

I heard about this cool project from a Nokia colleague on the Maps team using some amazing hardware used by Navteq. I promised not to blog about it but I discovered today that it was shown off last year so I guess it’s OK to talk about what’s already been reported. Apparently this was all the buzz at CES 2010 but I was in Finland and Mapping isn’t really my field so I didn’t know it was public. Any excuse to blog about a car mounted with lasers!

The image above is the output from a specially equipped car that scans the road and surrounding buildings with an array of 60 lasers on it’s roof. Think of it as an über-version of the standard camera cars you see mapping the streets today. It’s insane. Here’s how it’s described in a post by CNet.

One big part is a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) system that uses lasers to construct 3D maps of the world out of a sea of data points. The company boasts that its True system uses 64 rotating lidar lasers, captures 1.5 million 3D data points per second from features as far as 150 meters away and works even when the data collection vehicle is traveling at highway speeds.

There’s more that can be done with the hardware than what you see above but I better not go into that. Rest assured, it’s mind-blowing. I was joking with a colleague, combine the plane and landscape database from the Flight Simulator guys at Microsoft with the street view database from Navteq and you’ve got a hyper-realistic gaming environment.

If you want to learn more about LIDAR and the technology about it, there’s a talk by two folks from Navteq at the upcoming Where 2.0 conference in Santa Clara, CA in April.

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