Microsoft Virtual Earth Used for OnStar

Microsoft Virtual Earth has become OnStar's software platform for merging GPS location and 3-D aerial imagery. Companies ranging from Microsoft to Intel to Google have all been participating in various ways in the integration of automobiles with Web 2.0 technology.

Microsoft Virtual Earth's 3-D aerial imagery is being paired with OnStar's GPS location service, enhancing the latter in delivering location information to emergency responders.

"If you're in a rural or remote area, and you go off the road, with 3-D you'd be able to see the terrain of the area, and where the trees are, as opposed to with a 2-D map," David Graff, automotive and industrial equipment solutions director for Microsoft, said in an interview. "You can get very detailed, and you can do it fairly quickly. If you had to direct an emergency response person on the phone, you could say, 'The car is around the big tree to the left, down in the canyon.'"

Virtual Earth, a mapping platform that combines imagery from satellites and aerial cameras, powers Microsoft's Live Search Maps. It can be considered a competitor to Google Maps, which has integrated several granular features such as Street View.

According to Graff, OnStar decided on Virtual Earth as a software platform because of its high-resolution maps and the ability to integrate specialized applications. The system's 3-D maps and location data are in turn linked into OnStar's emergency services, such as Automatic Crash Response and Emergency button presses.

The IT industry has embraced automobiles as another arena in which to ply its latest innovations, with companies ranging from Intel to Microsoft all developing platforms and microprocessors that deliver everything from in-car entertainment options to real-time communications.

In addition, a number of automobile makers, including GM and Honda, have decided to focus their energies on creating hybrid, alternative-fuel or hybrid vehicles whose performance specs approach those of traditional cars. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin made headlines for their investment in Tesla Motors, producer of the all-electric Tesla Roadster and Model S, the latter featuring a top speed of 130 miles per hour in addition to a 17-inch touch-screen with 3G connectivity.