Google StreetView cars have been spotted in Italy, indicating that StreetView data will be coming soon.
The interesting part is that these don’t seem to be normal StreetView cars. These come equipped with a handful of SICK laser scanners. What for? Educating Silicon does a good job of breaking down the question. From their post:
So, what is Google doing with 3D laser data? The obvious application is 3D reconstruction for Google Earth. Their current efforts to do this involve user-generated 3D models from Sketchup. They have quite a lot of contributed models, but there is only so far you can get with an approach like that. With an automated solution, they could go for blanket 3D coverage. For an idea of what the final output might look like, have a look at the work of Frueh and Zakhor at Berkeley. They combined aerial and ground based laser with photo data to create full 3D city models. In am not sure Google will go to quite this length, but it certainly looks like they’re made a start on collecting the street-level data. Valleywag claims Google are hiring 300 drivers for their European data gathering efforts, so they will soon be swimming in laser data.
Maybe this is how Google will start mass-generating buildings for Google Earth to catch back up to Microsoft’s stockpile in Virtual Earth.