Online Maps: The Next Generation

Media systems scientists at USC rely on geospatial technology to integrate a wealth of information that is accurate and easily accessible for decision-makers in a wide range of fields.
By Diane Ainsworth
The technology has a similar look and feel to the new, high-powered interactive mapping tools, such as Google Earth and MSN Virtual Earth, said Cyrus Shahabi, who specializes in databases and information management.

Stay tuned for the next generation of online maps. They’re likely to dazzle everyone.

A team of computer scientists at USC’s Integrated Media Systems Center, led by Cyrus Shahabi, is providing the magic to make those maps interactive, three-dimensional, extremely accurate and easy to access.

The technology is being developed in a project called GeoDec: Geospatial Decision Making.

“GeoDec is designed to enable an information-rich and realistic three-dimensional visualization and/or simulation of geographical locations, such as cities or states, rapidly and accurately,” said Shahabi, who specializes in databases and information management. “The technology has a similar look and feel to the new, high-powered interactive mapping tools, such as Google Earth and MSN Virtual Earth.”

For a start, with the GeoDec technology, Shahabi and his team have shown that they can build accurate 3-D building models in a relatively short time a fraction of the time required by other existing technologies and procedures.

“We can also map images and live video textures to the models to make them even more realistic,” he said.

In addition to those advances, GeoDec technology can automatically and accurately integrate a broad range of spatial and temporal data, including road networks and GPS data, into the model to prepare it for sophisticated, spatio-temporal data analysis. That type of analysis is necessary for decision-making tasks.

An abundance of geospatial information such as digital maps, high-quality satellite images, road network data, traffic data, 3-D building models, global positioning system data and more is rapidly transforming the Web into a geospatial Internet.

Shahabi said the time is right to build more advanced data management and visualization systems, such as GeoDec, to integrate all of this information and make it easily accessible to users.

“The idea is not just to allow navigation through a 3-D model, but to be able to submit queries and get information about the area seamlessly and effortlessly,” he said. “Our main challenge is to figure out how we can quickly and cheaply integrate, visualize and simulate all aspects of a geographic region.”

The ability to create high-fidelity, information-rich models of cities, states or countries is critical for a wide variety of decision-makers, including city managers, city planners, emergency response planners and first responders.

Applications can be made in commercial development, tourism and hospitality industries, retail sales and advertising, job training in simulators and in the field, and transportation and military operations planning.

Shahabi’s GeoDec team is made up of faculty members specializing in four areas: databases, artificial intelligence (Craig Knoblock), computer vision (Ram Nevatia) and graphics (Ulrich Neumann and Suya You).