Microsoft revealed on Monday that it has started to collect Bing Maps Streetside imagery in the UK.
The first set of cars are currently driving around the streets of London collecting imagery that the software giant will use for Bing Maps. “Microsoft is basically saying that we think location based services are going to be really really important,” explains Microsoft’s Dave Coplin. “Not so much in the way we think about them today” said Coplin in an interview with WinRumors on Monday. Dave Coplin, director of search for Microsoft UK, compares Bing’s Streetside imagery to its main competitor, Google. “One of the conversations we often have is why are you doing this? Why don’t you just buy the stuff off Google?” Coplin explains that Microsoft needs to be in the competitive market and create its own strategic assets.
Microsoft is starting out slowly with its Bing Maps Streetside imagery. ”In the short term, we’ve picked out 29 locations in the UK, areas that we think have a high public interest…places like London, West Midlands and York.” The company is treading carefully with its Streetside data capture and has been working closely with the UK Government’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), Big Brother Watch and Privacy International. Coplin explained that the company needed to make sure it captured data correctly and in the right way. Coplin compared this to Google’s approach which saw the search giant penalized by France’s privacy watchdog after it captured payload data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. Google was recently fined $141,300, by French body CNIL, for collecting personal data from Wi-Fi networks — including e-mails, web browsing histories and online banking details — from 2007 to 2010 through its cars. “It was an accident” says Coplin and as a result Microsoft will not be collecting Wi-Fi data and data points initially. “I would imagine at some point in the near future, anywhere between now and the next couple of months we will start to collect,” explains Coplin. Microsoft is currently working with the ICO and privacy lobby to establish a best practice to collect Wi-Fi data.
Microsoft is using Volkswagen Golf Estate cars in conjunction with its partner Navteq. “They have state of the art GPS” says Coplin. “They also have my favorite bit of all which is this unit which sits on top of the car called a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging).” The LIDAR, which collects 1.5 million data points a second, is a spinning laser which Coplin describes as “just brilliant.” The data allows Navteq to create impressive 3D maps of roads. Microsoft’s work on the car has been mainly involved in the imagery side. The car takes 3,200 images a mile which are all around 1.4 megapixels in resolution. The images are captured on HDDs which are then shipped to Microsoft’s U.S. datacenters. “That’s where the Microsoft magic happens” says Coplin. Microsoft takes the raw data and processes it to blur people’s faces and number plates etc. Navteq also gets a copy of the data as part of the partnership. “Navteq may end up selling it to partners,” explains Coplin but Microsoft expects the company will build out their portfolio of accurate street signs in the short term.
Microsoft expects that the first round of imagery will be available in early May, subject to the car schedules. The company has two cars out on the roads of London this week and has created a mini-site for more information. Privacy is crucial to Microsoft and the company has setup a human call center to handle any requests for images to be removed. Imagery will be collected in the UK first with France, Germany and Spain following soon after. Coplin explained that Streetside is “massively exciting” for the company and Bing is looking to the long term. “I think it’s a great place for us to be and it’s going to be a really fascinating thing to watch unfold.”