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Maps With a Higher Profile

Kim Hart

Ever since Google, Microsoft and Yahoo made maps and satellite images available online, geospatial products have enjoyed a higher profile. People use them to find driving directions and plot vacation routes, swoop into foreign cities and fly over oceans.

But they're also used to conduct research and plan for emergencies. GeoEye, a Dulles company that went public in September, has an archive that contains 278 million square kilometers of satellite imagery. The company already sells some of those images to Yahoo and Microsoft Virtual Earth, as well as the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. Now it's trying to give some some of the products away to research organizations and universities to, for instance, study melting ice ponds in Antarctica, urban sprawl in Mexico and hunt for rare plants in the tropics.

GeoEye this week launched the GeoEye Foundation, an organization that will donate satellite imagery to support environmental research and social causes.

The company's also using the venture to "foster the growth of the next generation of geospatial technology," said Mark Brender, vice president of marketing who will run the foundation.

Even though the term "geospatial" is more widely understood these days, thanks in part to products like GoogleEarth, Brender said it's still difficult to recruit workers with expertise in the field--especially in the Washington area.

"It's a tough job market for a high-tech company that runs satellites and a geospatial business line," Brender said. "The government is doing the same sort of thing with their own satellites, so we're competing with the federal government for top talent."

GeoEye, which was formed when OrbImage purchased Denver-based SpaceImaging in January 2006, hopes to attract more people the field by building direct relationships with the top technology schools.

The company owns and operates three earth-imaging satellites and is about to unveil a fourth, which GeoEye says will be the world's highest resolution commercial earth imagery satellite. From 425 miles in space, the satellite will be able to detect objects as small as 16 inches in length, Brender said.

Many researchers, and even local governments, use Google's free satellite maps to respond to disasters. But Robert M. Samborski, executive director of the Geospatial Information and Technology Association in Denver, said more accurate and current images--like GeoEye's-- are needed.

And additional commercial uses for maps could surface by giving the satellite images to research projects.

"Who knows," Samborski said. "I think you'll probably find iPods not only playing your favorite tunes but showing your favorite maps pretty soon."

By Kim Hart  |  March 29, 2007; 6:30 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Anybody using this technology for public input on urban and rural community planning proposals??

Posted by: robin | March 30, 2007 6:52 PM

Earlier today I also passed this along to Pegoraro, but in view of the topic of your post, you should read Dave Winer. He says Google Earth is showing views of New Orleans pre-Katrina, and the explanation of why they've done this is lame. Assuming this is true, how would old images help with emergency planning? I hope you folks will check this out.

Posted by: tam | April 2, 2007 9:24 PM

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