Earthmine lets you splash graffiti on virtual cities without getting arrested

Earthmine is unveiling a 3-D mapping application today that captures the real world and then lets artists draw graffiti all over it.

Wild Style City is a kind of 3-D recreation of the world that faithfully reproduces every street in cities such as San Francisco, much like Google’s StreetView application. But Earthmine’s twist is that it adds a virtual layer on the buildings upon which users can draw legal graffiti.

This app is a good example of the growing trend toward mixed reality, or a hybrid of reality and virtual environments that make the real world easier to decipher or more entertaining.

The application is being unveiled today at the Where 2.0 conference in San Jose, Calif. And it’s just one of many possible uses of Earthmine’s technology of mixing 3-D graphics with accurately mapped information.

The event is dedicated to the use of navigation and mapping technologies in a variety of digital applications. Users who view Wild Style City maps online can see all the user-generated graffiti.

Users can annotate any site with messages or art using interactive geo-tagging tools. The Earthmine applications gives users a 3-D view of streets with Adobe’s Flash animation tools.

The application is free to use, but business versions of it are commercially available. The point of the free application is to let people freely express themselves and their ideas in real places without getting arrested, said Anthony Fassero, chief executive. Just like in the real world, any graffiti can be removed by the community, or you can draw on top of someone else’s graffiti.

“The graffiti is what makes this a much more social application,” Fassero said. “For our purposes, it shows off our data set.”

Beyond graffiti artists, Earthmine believes its application can be useful to people in engineering, construction, infrastructure management, real estate, architecture, design, homeland security, disaster management and emergency services. The company sells its data to a variety of companies who license its applications programming interface.

It’s much like Google’s StreetView, which debuted in 2007. But Fassero said his company is opting for higher-quality, better resolution, and 3-D navigation. Other rivals include Blue Dasher. There are downsides to the technology; StreetView has run into trouble in Germany for possibly violating privacy laws.

With Earthmine’s data, you can map the exact locations of power poles, pot holes, parking meters and what not for things such as construction purposes, Fassero said. An architect could use the interactive tools to redo the facade of a building for a customer to visualize.

The Berkeley, Calif.-based company hires people to drive around cities and capture 360 degrees of data in stereo format so that it can be easily converted into 3-D animation. The company built its own cameras and software to generate more precise images.

Earthmine then processes the data and puts it on its site in the form of a virtual world. The company was founded in 2006 and has 15 employees. It has raised all of its funding through friends and family. The company is not raising a new round and is on its way to cash-flow positive, Fassero said.


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