There can never be any substitute for going somewhere “in the flesh” but there are times, for obvious reasons, when you can’t go there in person or you want a taste of where you’re going before you depart. With fast connections becoming ubiquitous, richer and more immersive online maps are growing in popularity and diversity. Most people are familiar with the big players in the west (Google, Yahoo, Live etc.) here are a few you may not have heard of but provide a unique virtual experience:
Captures some amazing 3D walkthroughs in North America and Asia using 2D photos stitched together combined with GPS data which you can wander through as your own pace or be “driven” through on autopilot. Transitions between different areas in one location is especially impressive with the environment rushing past you (ala Hyperspace). I particularly liked the Forbidden City and Great Wall captures in China which is all the more surprising considering how tight the Chinese authorities usually are in allowing the capture and use of geodata within its borders. A friend of mine who worked at a large online mapping company in Beijing told me that, whilst they had all the satellite images to be able to provide a service like Google Maps, they were not allowed to use them for reasons of “national security”…
Take a virtual tour of Shanghai (and 21 other cities in China) rendered Sim City style – seriously cool! A part of me can’t help feeling sorry for the people at Edushi (short for E-City in Chinese) who must have had to painstakingly draw this but the result is surprisingly compelling. The maps appear to be ad supported and rather depressingly even have dedicated buttons to show your nearest MacDonalds/KFC – don’t you just love globalisation? Even if you can’t read Chinese the maps are well worth a look, even if it’s just to check out the shear audaciousness of it all!
More virtual panoramas from China allowing you to step through some high-res 360 degree imagery from a plethora of locations in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Jinan and Wenzhou. Similar to Google Maps Street View you can navigate within the environment in some areas allowing you to take virtual walks, just try to avoid being run down by the crazy drivers! I like the way it presents a traditional map next to the image also highlighting your angle of vision.
Also worth checking out are Panoramas.dk for some amazing Quicktime VR and the Google Sightseeing blog which highlights some of the more quirky discoveries on Google Earth. Do you know of any others worthy of a mention?