2007 Preview: Public-Private partnerships, 3D US civil war re-enactments

What’s in store for 2007? Public-private partnerships that involve Google popularizing access to cutting-edge technology. Here’s a telling preview, just off the wires:

Pennsylvania Governor Rendell Announces Pioneering Technology Venture to Promote State Tourism
Public-Private Partnership Will Allow World to Experience Pa’s Civil War Heritage

HARRISBURG, Pa., Dec. 11 /PRNewswire/ — Governor Edward G. Rendell today announced that Pennsylvania will become the first state in the nation to capitalize on the Google Earth platform by using a new, cutting-edge technology to make tourism an interactive experience from anywhere in the world.

The Governor said the state will provide a $285,000 grant to support an unprecedented partnership between Google Earth, Carnegie Mellon University, NASA, the Pennsylvania Tourism Office and the National Civil War Museum that will allow ‘virtual tourists’ from all corners of the globe to immerse themselves in Pennsylvania’s Civil War trails.

A bit further down in the press release, we find out what the intended end product is supposed to do. Says the governor:

Those who use this technology could see a panoramic view along a trail, zoom in to read the inscription on a Civil War monument, or go back in time to witness the change of seasons on a historic battlefield.

That’s quite a tall order, but we can assume that he isn’t making this up, as we soon get some more hints about the technology behind this:

Google Earth technology provides for a visual display of information about a specific location. Building on this platform, the Pennsylvania Tourism Office will incorporate a new technology developed through the Global Connections Project, a partnership that includes CMU, Google and NASA’s Ames Research Center.

Known as Gigapan – short for Gigapixel Panoramas – the technology combines thousands of digital images to create a panoramic image in excess of one billion pixels. When combined with time-lapse, users can explore the space through time as well.

The Global Connections Project was also responsible for the National Geographic layer in Google Earth and some of the Katrina and Pakistan quake imaging. Here is their Gigapan page, which connects to a page about its commercial applications. (Pages are loading haphazardly at the moment, try refreshing or use these individual page caches, 2, 3, 4, 5.)

Pennsylvania’s government isn’t the first to realize the appeal of Google Earth as a tool for rustling up tourists — until now, however, local towns, cities, or tourist boards have largely been content to donate imagery to Google, or to publish geospatial databases of points of interest as KML. Pennsylvania’s partnership takes this to the next level, apparently turning the Google Earth platform into an extremely high-resolution multimedia platform.

The press release doesn’t say, but I am guessing that the result of this grant, when complete, will just show up one day in an updated version of the Google Earth client, where we’ll have the ability to zoom much closer than currently, and use the time browser (or something like it) to navigate time-wise through base imagery. Here’s also hoping for authentic historic 3D buildings, and troop positions over the duration of the battles. Perhaps also by then we’ll have the ability to play 3D “presentations” in Google Earth, with voice overs and timed specific vantage points. But I’m just dreaming aloud.

[Update 21.01 UTC: Avi Avi Bar-Ze’ev has further interesting commentary on this news.]