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Exploring New Horizons: How Google’s 3D Mapping and Innovative VR Experiences Are Redefining Real-World Exploration

This blog post is an extract from the Bob Cooney’s VR Arcade Game Buyer’s. You can download the whole guide here.

Google Maps is the go-to navigation tool for over one billion people, and 72% of the US market. Google’s access to data is unparalleled, and Google Earth offers a 3D view of almost the entire planet. This year Google announced its plan to offer developers immersive 3D Google Earth view of the entire world. Photorealistic 3D Tiles, available through their Map Tiles API, offer high-resolution 3D imagery of 2500 cities in almost 50 countries with hundreds of famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Empire State Building in NY, and the Colosseum in Rome.

One vision of the metaverse is that there will be digital layers of information on top of the physical world. Another envisions “digital twins” where everything on Earth is recreated in a virtual world. Google is building towards both visions with a digital version of the entire planet and their treasure trove of data layered on top of the real world.

While the Google Map Tiles API is still new and requires online access, it allows virtual reality developers to recreate photorealistic real-world environments. In June of this year, Somniacs, the makers of the VR flying platform Birdly, were the first LBE company to announce they’d use the new Google Earth data to build “Birdly World”, a concept enabling customers to fly anywhere on Earth.

In 2019, Frontgrid installed the ParadropVR City Flyer in King Power Mahanakhon, Thailand’s tallest skyscraper and one of the top tourist attractions in Bangkok. In an immersive, interactive video game, guests can pilot a virtual paraglider around the iconic Bangkok skyline. Last year I tried their installation at Surf Snowdonia in Wales, soaring over a video game version of the national park there.

ParadropVR City Flyer in Thailand

JUMP by Limitless Flight, James Jensen’s follow-up to The VOID, utilizes advanced 3D capture technology to craft high-resolution recreations of real-world environments for their immersive wingsuit flying experiences. This technology deploys eight 150 MP cameras mounted on a helicopter flown approximately 100 feet from the surface to capture the intricate details of varied landscapes. Each scan process yields about 50 to 60 thousand images and generates several terabytes of data. Integrations with Capturing Reality and Unreal Engine make the highly detailed and accurate renderings possible.

JUMP’s approach is concentrated on creating exact replicas or ‘digital twins’ of various landscapes, emphasizing the granular detail of each element within the environment to provide an enriched, authentic user experience. The process ensures each flight feels exceptionally vivid and real, allowing users to observe detailed elements such as gravel when flying close enough to a cliff in a JUMP wingsuit.

In comparison, Google Maps amalgamates satellite imagery, aerial photography, and Street View technology to fabricate 3D representations of the world. While Google Maps can offer extensive coverage and a generalized view from a few thousand feet above, the detail level might not be as advanced and refined as JUMP’s, lacking the close-up, immersive detail essential for a more realistic experience.

Over the next year or two, expect to see more experiences where people experience various modes of realistic flight once limited to a tiny minority. Thanks to the billions of dollars invested in building the metaverse, these theme park quality experiences are coming to family entertainment centers, shopping malls, and tourist attractions everywhere.

James Jensen and his team getting ready to capture Notch Peak

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