Texture Mapping Taken Literally

In 1946, an essayist and poet Jorge Luis Borges wrote a frequently referred to fable about ambitious cartographers who drew up a map so detailed that it ended up covering the territory of an Empire exactly. This, of course, defeated the very purpose of the map, so it eventually decayed to shreds under the feet of successive generations.

In the digital realm, however, we don’t luckily have above kinds of spatial issues, which enable us to create as detailed representations of reality as we are willing and able to without worrying how much virtual space it may occupy. The world is ours to model.

And that is exactly what must have been on the minds of the people at C3 Technologies when they decided to develop their cutting edge aerial 3D imagining technology. I saw first demo videos of it few years back and couldn’t believe the level of definition and overall quality of the imagery: It looked too good to be true.

But now that the C3’s mapping technology has put in more mainstream use by Nokia, the significance of it becomes clearer and clearer: This changes the geological cartography as we know it. And the true beauty of the tech is the presumably minimal amount of manual labor that goes into the creation process, so the cost and time per square-kilometer should remain reasonable, which is crucial for the future of the technology.

Admittedly Google Earth does include a similar project to 3D model at least the major cities, but the fact is, it doesn’t play even in the same ballpark what comes to the level of photorealism. Currently, C3’s offering simply kills the competition as far as I know, and it’s hard to see anyone else to come up with a better (or even equal) solution in any foreseeable future.

Of course, C3’s maps are far from perfect 3D representations of their real-life counterparts since the maps basically simulate only space [1] and not light, which becomes quite apparent and distracting when looking at metropolitan areas with highly reflective skyscrapers. Plus, the shadows are completely depended on the weather conditions of the day of shooting, so the overall look may vary drastically within a large region, but these are known issues of photo-based modeling in general.

When I was younger, I was very much into scale models, like dioramas and such. They fascinated me beyond comprehension and my theory is that real-time imagery, like these 3D maps, intrigues me for similar reasons. I’m yet to pinpoint exactly what those reasons may be, but my gut feeling says it has got to do with this god-like, omnipotent perspective on the reality. That one can seemingly twist and turn a piece of reality as one pleases, which, of course, isn’t the case with the “real reality”.

[1] see my thesis, Chapter V: Simulation of Visual