updated 07:00 pm EDT, Mon August 1, 2011
Offered 3D flyover mapping technology
A Swedish 3D mapping company -- originally developed and owned by auto maker and defense contractor Saab -- called C3 Technologies has been bought and shut down by a mystery buyer, reports Nyteknik.se. The promising technology, which offered highly-realistic 3D aerial and ground maps of large cities to a far greater extent than employed by Google or Microsoft, has been purchased by a non-Asian company in a deal worth $160 million.
C3's technology was originally developed in 2008 to help homing missles find their targets, but consumer uses of the technology attracted attention when demonstrated the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this past January running on Android and iOS devices. An example app using the technology could provide a instantly-updated, 3D flyover of London marking specific hotels and providing a realistic look at the building, surrounding sites and nearby locations. The technology includes 3D renderings of all map information, not just a few select buildings or highlights, and unlike Google or Bing's maps, the C3 images are fully 360-degree explorable.
C3's technology is based on multi-camera aerial flyovers combined with ground-level roaming camera cars (the latter being similar to Google's "Street View" feature). The overlapping information of the cameras is combined with proprietary "depth-perception" software to gauge scale automatically, creating the realistic 3D maps.
The service had found a few clients before the purchase, most notably Nokia, which uses C3's 3D maps in its own Ovi Maps application. The Ovi Maps service covered 20 cities, including Los Angeles, London and New York City. A number of phone-directory companies in Europe had also signed on to the service.
Though a few commenters have speculated that Apple -- which often employs stealth and secrecy in its acquisitions -- could be the buyer, Google and Microsoft would be at least as interested in acquiring the technology as Apple would, and it's also possible that Nokia opted to buy out the company to protect its Ovi Maps app and bolster its own smartphone platform.
If the mystery buyer were to be revealed as Apple, however, the purchase would significantly advance the company's own efforts at creating a GPS system unique to iOS and reducing its dependence on Google Maps. Apple acquired another mapping service, Placebase, almost exactly two years ago.
News of the sale emerged in mid-July when Saab announced it had divested itself of its 57.8 percent share of the company. The C3 web site was shut down shortly thereafter. [via Nyteknik]