Standing on a street corner in Shanghai, you’re tired and thirsty after a day of sightseeing. You could really use a Starbucks coffee.
In a few years, you won’t have to worry about directions to the coffee seller’s nearest location. Instead, you’ll check your favorite electronic communications device. Computer software will display a virtual, three-dimensional view on the screen that duplicates your actual surroundings, and with the help of a global-positioning system, guide you to your destination, one step at a time.
Though still some time away from reaching consumers’ hands, the door to a tool that puts users on the 3-D map is opening wider these days. Google Inc.’s GoogleEarth, and Microsoft Corp.’s Live Local Web sites already offer three-dimensional views of certain cities. These cityscapes are just beginning to make use of a technology called 3D Situational Awareness that combines aerial photographs with ground-level pictures or videos and adds computer-generated details.