While the satellite imagery that online maps such as Google and Bing Maps use on their platforms is already high enough resolution for road navigation or finding individual buildings, these images are about to get a lot better. The US government has lifted a long-standing ban on satellite imagery with a higher resolution than 50cm per pixel.
Previously, higher resolutions were limited to purely military applications, meaning that maps used by civilian tech companies were limited to only showing objects larger than this size. Now DigitalGlobe, a major satellite imaging company is preparing to launch a constellation of satellites which take imagery at the higher resolution of 31cm per pixel.
The company which successfully applied to the US government to have the restrictions lifted states that they believe the new resolution will help companies and individuals better monitor events such as natural disasters.
...sub-half-meter imagery [...] is particularly important for more accurate and automated land use/land cover mapping, as well as change detection applications for natural resources management, urban planning, and emergency response mapping.
While this is indeed useful in some areas, there are of course significant privacy concerns. At a 31cm resolution, much smaller details can be imaged. These include smaller objects such as mailboxes or manholes, but more worrying to privacy advocates, they can also provide better picture of people.
Of course in the past, this level of resolution has been available in the form of aerial photography, however this lacked that key ability to track events in real time. While there is little chance that Google, Bing, or another maps provider would have real-time satellite imaging capabilities, there is always the chance that data could be misused or feeds could be hacked.
Regardless of these risks, new and better imaging tech seems to be a certainty, and would have numerous real world applications. Useful to both everyday maps users, companies, and the government, these new satellites will guarantee that we are all going to watched just a little bit more.
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