Google today announced that its top secret X-Labs division is working on a massive drone airplane program. Not satisfied with the large temporal and spatial gaps between licensed satellite data and its ever-growing StreetView database, the so-called Google AirView draws talent from across the company.
"AirView will enable us to show essentially real-time imagery of the planet, in high resolution, from a birds-eye view.", quotes George Skutania, lead developer on the project.
The aerial drones, equipped with high-resolution 3d cameras, radar, and laser scanners, are building complete detailed models of the earths most visited locations. Feeds from the drones are processed using special software developed by X Labs, enabling consumers to view, for instance, how the snow coverage is on their favorite slopes in Tahoe.
"With our AirView drone program, we can keep our fleet in the sky 24/7, without the need of human intervention, and without the safety concerns of our StreetView land-based vehicles. Our drones can also easily access locations that are either dangerous or impossible for our automotive fleet to access. Moreover, it enables us to amplify the frequency of content updates by an order of magnitude, all while using less human and energy resources. It keeps the content fresh and topical."
For the program, Google recruited some of its top scientists, engineers, executives and designers from around the company. The only pre-requisite was that they had experience either via a private pilots license, or in flying radio-controlled model planes. While the initial prototypes are being manually piloted, all navigational direction is being recorded in the data centers. This enables the machines to learn the best piloting techniques for a planned migration to fully automated reconnaissance.
According to sources within the company, Google partnered extensively with Boeing and Lockheed-Martin in developing their initial drone prototypes.