ISI's Craig Knoblock Wins Microsoft Virtual Earth Award

April 10, 2007

Craig Knoblock is one of 21 researchers selected from more than 140 competitors for grants from the software giant.

The program will distribute funding totaling $1.1 million to help academic researchers innovate in advanced mapping and location-based search technologies. According to the April 5 Microsoft announcement, the goal is "to study and map the physical world in real time, to push the technological boundaries of local search, and to understand the potential societal impact of these kinds of geographic technologies.

"New solutions ultimately resulting from the research are expected to yield rich and diverse benefits, such as helping tourists find affordable restaurants with the shortest lines, or helping scientists understand changes in the ecology of biological systems under the threat of climate change."

Knoblock, a senior project leader at the Information Sciences Institute and a research professor at the University of Southern California Viterbi School, wants users to have the ability to fuse existing online sources &ndash such as street maps, property survey maps, maps of oil and natural gas fields &ndash with aerial images.

By doing so, they would be able to view a precise mapping of what would typically be a fairly ambiguous aerial photo &ndash a cityscape with a few distinct landmarks. However, this kind of mapping is only possible with a fully detailed street map showing all road intersections (the current method by which precise mapping is determined).

Knoblock's project aligns abstract street maps with known road networks and other maps &ndash and integrates them with the overarching Virtual Earth matrix, so that users will be able to select individual map 'layers' and display them on available aerial images of a particular region. The idea is that they can be as specific or as general as needed.

"There are many maps available online, but they are hard to find and difficult to use," says Knoblock. "Fusing existing maps with the aerial imagery will provide a much richer experience, especially when the user can choose the layers he or she is interested in."

Knoblock adds that eventually, he'd like to create a system to index all the maps available online, not just road maps, but also those that mark fast food restaurants, gas stations, oil fields, coffeehouses, et cetera, so that people can choose any of those layers to fuse with the map they're viewing.

In addition to the unrestricted grants, each of the 21 winners of the SensorMap and Virtual Earth RFPs have been promised additional research support from Microsoft.