Global Ortho Project Complete for United States

In 2010 the Bing Maps team began its most ambitious mapping endeavor ever with the start of its Global Ortho (GO) project. Today we are excited to announce the completion of the GO project in the United States!

With the Global Ortho project, the Bing Maps Imagery team set a new standard in aerial map imagery by collecting every square inch of the Continental United States and Western Europe at 30cm resolution (1 foot = 1 pixel) in just two years – something that had never before been accomplished. This project has given us imagery that is brilliant, accurate and fresh, and the completion of the U.S. is a huge achievement! Now, more than ever we have the ability to deliver a consistent quality experience to all our consumers and enterprise customers.

The effort to bring high resolution imagery to market began in 2006 when Microsoft entered the aerial photography business with the acquisition of Vexcel Imaging.  Microsoft began evolving and improving the flagship UltraCam aerial camera, and over time, developed a special version of the camera that acquires a very wide swath of imagery at high resolution.  With this new camera Microsoft conceived the Global Ortho project, designed to bring consistent quality and resolution to every part of the United States and beyond. 

And that is what is so special about the Global Ortho program. There is higher resolution imagery of some certain areas available, but there is no continent-wide mosaic at this high of a resolution. What GO brings you is an amazing view into familiar places (like your own home) and remote corners of the United States. For example, you can see high-resolution imagery of the Pueblo Bonito ruins at Chaco Culture National Historical Park:


To be fair, there are two places where we could not collect photos: Area 51 and the Vandenberg Air Force Base.  However, the United States allowed the Global Ortho aircraft everywhere else, and Microsoft captured some astonishing imagery.  This included Cape Canaveral, where we were fortunate enough to capture the shuttle Atlantis before its last flight:


The amount of imagery that Bing Maps acquired and processed for the Global Ortho project is staggering.  The GO acquisition in US was completed in two years; contrast that with the second biggest aerial photography project, the USGS’s National Agriculture Imagery Program, or NAIP. Based on comparable specs it would take NAIP 42 years to acquire the same amount of imagery. That’s a HUGE amount of imagery. To get a sense of the size of the GO project, think about it in pixels. At 30cm per pixel if you lined up all the GO pixels end to end, they would reach:

  • Around the earth 994 times

  • To the moon 104 times

  • To Venus, with an extra seven trillion pixels to spare

To celebrate the US completion, the team is flying one last commemorative mission which we are calling our “Golden Spike” flight. Golden Spike hearkens back to the spike that was driven to commemorate the joining of the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S.  For our Golden Spike, Bing Maps invited local Colorado chalk artist Jennifer Mosquera to create a massive Bing logo that will be plainly visible in the imagery collected during the flight.  As luck would have it, an ideal spot for the logo in the Golden Spike flight is the top of the parking garage just north of the Bing Maps Imagery Team’s building in downtown Boulder, CO.

In this photo, Jennifer Mosquera leads a team of artists from the Larimer Arts Association in recreating the Bing logo on the top of the parking garage:


The artists started early and worked through the day to create the 200 x 90 foot Bing logo. The following day, Global Ortho flying partner, Keystone Aerial Surveys used the most current commercially available Microsoft UltraCam, the UltraCam Eagle, to photograph the Bing Maps team on the roof.

As a sneak peak, here’s a great shot of the team adopting the ever popular “snow angel” pose as the turboprop aircraft collects the final photo:


This photo was taken from a 30 foot tall scissor lift which I personally drove to the top of the six-floor parking garage. The fish-eye view afforded by this image will likely be familiar to those who use GoPro cameras. Setting up the GoPro on top of the lift on top of a 6-story drop was a little discomforting, to say the least. OK, it was closer to horrifying when the wind picked up. But at least the photo gives a proxy of what the final image may look like – I can hardly wait!

Right this very moment, the team is processing the Golden Spike imagery at the Bing Maps Imagery data center in Longmont, Colorado. The first step in the processing is making a single RGB image out of the data from the many sensors on the UltraCam. Next, the imagery undergoes the process of orthorectification which will turn the photo into a mapping-grade image. After a quality assurance review the imagery is merged with the rest of the Global Ortho imagery live on Bing Maps. The Golden Spike photo in Boulder, CO will be the final imagery posted in the US portion of the Global Ortho project.

Check back next week to see the final imagery from the Bing Maps Global Ortho Golden Spike!

-Charlie Peterson

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