Google MapsGL Ushers in 3D Mapping

Google has launched its Google MapsGL experiment to test 3D map rendering to its popular application. Check it out in Chrome and Firefox using new browser versions and graphics cards.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has applied technology from WebGL (Web Graphics Library) to its Google Maps application to render maps in 3D.

Overseen by Mozilla Foundation, WebGL is an open-source 3D graphics API for JavaScript that developers can use to fashion sophisticated 3D Web apps without requiring users to install software on their computers.

Google, Mozilla, Apple, Opera and graphics hardware vendors have been working together to standardize WebGL, whose magic happens in the browser.

Google has offered a couple interesting implementations of WebGL for its Chrome Web browser, including the "3 Dreams of Black" and "All is Not Lost" experiments, which are well choreographed and set to music.

Now Google has pointed its WebGL expertise to Google MapsGL, which offers users 3D renditions of buildings, 45 degree aerial view rotations, and the ability to swoop into Street View. Previously, these stylized, 3D maps have only been accessible via the Google Maps for Android applications for smartphones and Honeycomb tablets.

However, while that Android mobile app loads pre-rendered image tiles from servers, Google MapsGL sends vector data for the map to the browser and renders it on the fly using WebGL. See a demo here.

eWEEK enabled the experiment in Google Maps from our Windows 7 Dell Latitude desktop, which was running Chrome 14.

We then took the tour, which offered us the ability to check out buildings in Westminster Abbey in London, England, which rendered well in 3D, if not a tad slowly.

We then took 45 degree aerial satellite views of Rome's Colosseum via Google Earth to see the front faces of buildings rather than just the roof tops.

We also clicked the rotate button for 360 degree views around the Colosseum. Grabbing the pegman icon let us swing swiftly into Street View to check out city streets in Rome.

Google MapsGL worked well enough. However, it should be noted that access to this early form of Google MapsGL is limited to modern browsers, including Chrome 14 and later and Mozilla Firefox 8 or newer, as well as computers with powerful graphics cards.

These include Mac OS Snow Leopard 10.6+, Lion 10.7+ Windows Vista or Windows 7 and Linux.