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Dec 13

Brady Forrest

Brady Forrest

Earthmine: Digitizing the Streets with NASA Technology

Earthmine imagery

The online mapping space continues its march towards 3D and startup Earthmine is at the forefront. Earthmine has developed technology that enables them to get high-resolution 3D geo-imagery quickly. They've developed a street-level camera system that enables them to capture 3D data for each pixel.

Yesterday Earthmine announced that they have exclusive access to the same NASA technology that is used on the Mars Rover. The technology comes from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. As a part of the deal CalTech will take an equity stake in Eartmine. From the press release:

The agreement between JPL and earthmine includes exclusive use of software and algorithms for street level mapping, and asset management and encompasses stereo vision systems and camera calibration algorithms. earthmine will utilize the software and algorithms as a part of its processing pipeline, which automates the creation of high-quality, seamless panoramic imagery with pixel-for-pixel 3D depth information from its image collection system.

The technology licensed by earthmine is currently utilized as a part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Wide angle stereo cameras are mounted on NASA's twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) launched toward Mars in 2003. The licensed software and algorithms are used to create a 3D representation of the local terrain, allowing autonomous routing of the MERs through the Martian environment. earthmine has combined this JPL technology with its unique, capture hardware and web delivery technology to deliver 3D data with unprecedented density and accuracy.

3D was made for the web. Imagine flying through Google Earth or Live's 3D Maps (Radar post) and getting to see Earthmine-quality imagery alongside the rendered models. I think that both MS and Google will make more investments in this area.

Watch Earthmine's trippy video after the jump for a taste of what's to come from them and an explanation of how they do it. Also enjoy the uncredited music from Lemon Jelly.

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Joe   [12.14.07 11:16 AM]

So JPL exclusively licensed technology developed with public dollars to this startup? Shouldn't this software be available to anyone, without restriction?

Anonymous   [12.14.07 02:28 PM]

And conversely, is profit made from this startup being returned to the public?

James   [12.14.07 03:16 PM]

I agree with Joe's observation... I'm afraid that that happens all too often... The Government subsidizes this and many other things with our hard earned tax dollars and in return we (the sheeple) end-up paying for it twice...

John   [12.14.07 04:09 PM]

I think this is pretty standard. Public universities and research institutions license technology all the time. This enables them to recoup some of the costs of these endeavors and feed it back into new research (which is even more important these days with the budget cuts that institutions like NASA are having to deal with).

Once Academic   [12.14.07 05:13 PM]

The University does not have to recoup costs -- they got their money from the government the first time, sans profit. The government generally lets these contracts to Universities, defense contractors and others under co-ownership agreements. The government has the rights to the software and the contractor has the rights. The public is not given any rights. This allows the University to reward the faculty that develop successful products by making them rich which is a big motivator and allows the Universities to have top-notch talent that they otherwise would not have on a base faculty salary.

Eric   [12.14.07 09:43 PM]

Hey Joe -- you were so caught up in your misguided self-righteous rant, you mis-spelled the word "cost" when you wrote "Shouldn't this software be available to anyone, without cost?"

Fact is, if you had a reasonable commercial need for technology like this, you'd be thrilled that somebody ELSE spent the money, and gladly pay the licensing fee to the private company that commercialized it.

And yeah. I would be thrilled to play with this technology right now too, but unlike you, Joe, I don't think entertaining me is the best use of public funds this year.

eh   [12.22.07 01:26 AM]

Eric, what do you mean by "somebody else spent the money"? It was paid with public funds. You and I spent the money, not "somebody else". And some of us may want to use or further develop the technology that we paid for, for real purposes other than entertainment. Why should we have to pay AGAIN, and be subject to some company's restrictions on what purposes we can put it to?

Eric   [12.23.07 12:18 AM]

My gosh. You just don't get it. Should we all get semiconductors, solar panels, and velcro too? Public funds paid for their development too.

You didn't pay for it. I didn't pay for it. WE ALL PAID FOR IT.

The Feds needed the tech for the Mars Rover project, and would have paid for it whether it could eventually be commoditized or not. At least this way, the PUBLIC receives the benefit of the licensing fees the commoditizing company pays.

And regarding the restrictions... the Feds keep a web site specifically designed to market commodity-worthy technology developed in the public interest with public funds. You could have bid on it too, just like the company that is offering it, and then made it available without whatever restrictions you feel are onerous.

Regarding "entertainment". You're right. I should have used the word "hobby" (as the IRS would define ti).

Again. I too would love to play with it. If I can conjure up a business scheme sufficient to convince financiers of it's potential, I would license it in a heartbeat. But unlike the original researchers/developers, I'm not willing to accept the risk.

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