Google Earth and Maps could cover a lot more territory with a lot more detail soon, if some photos from Italy are anything to judge by.
First, evidenced by Google-branded cars traversing Milan, is the possibility that Google is acquiring European imagery for its Street View feature.
Second is the observation, based on scrutiny of those pictures, that Google could be gathering 3D data along with the photos.
"With an automated solution, they could go for blanket 3D coverage," rather than the more limited approach today involving user contributions of basic 3D models, robotics engineering student Mark Cummins observed on his Educating Silicon blog. Cummins also helpfully included links to work by start-up Earthmine and University of California at Berkeley researchers Avideh Zakhor and Christian Früh to show what others are doing with 3D street-view imaging.
Cummins bases his conclusion on the use of Sick laser scanning equipment, which sends a laser beam back and forth to gauge distances to nearby objects. Laser scanners can produce a 3D model detailed map onto which imagery can be overlaid.
Google wouldn't comment either on any European expansion or on 3D scanning, but both ideas are consistent with the company's general plans for Google Maps and Google Earth.
"We continue to add more cities in Street View," spokesman Larry Yu said. "There are of course laws and regulations to consider abroad, so we looking closely at that." Yahoo has run into some privacy concerns with its street-level imagery.
Of the 3D work, Yu also was unspecific. "We want more 3D data in Google Earth. The latest release of Google Earth is where you'll see the results of our effort to automate the addition of 3D data."
In related news, ValleyWag reported that Google is hiring 300 drivers to map Switzerland.