Google mapping enters the third dimension

Search giant launches Google Earth, a satellite mapping service that lets people zoom in for 3D views of buildings and terrain.

Google has launched its new mapping service that uses local search and satellite images to give users a three-dimensional view of buildings and terrain.

Google Earth, announced on Tuesday, uses technology from the company's Keyhole division, a satellite mapping service it bought in October. The software for the service can be downloaded free from the search giant's Web site.

Google Earth lets people search for a location to get an aerial view, then zoom in to see 3D images of certain buildings and landscapes in select U.S. cities. Images can be tilted and rotated. It also offers dynamic navigation and video playback of driving directions. Users can combine multiple layers of information and save their results for later use, Google said. The company already offers local search and mapping services for Web users and mobile phone users.

"Google Earth utilizes broadband streaming technology and 3D graphics, much like a videogame, enabling users to interactively explore the world--either their own neighborhood or the far corners of the globe," John Hanke, Keyhole at Google general manager, said in a statement.

Search rivals have been launching new mapping services and other tools in an effort to grab more market share in the lucrative search industry. Microsoft last week began testing a mapping service that includes satellite imagery.'s unit has paired local information with digital photos of U.S. businesses in several cities.

Google said that an advanced version of Google Earth, with features such as GPS (Global Positioning System) compatibility and annotation is available for US$20 a year. A commercial version that offers high-resolution printing and other professional tools will sell for US$400 a year, the company said.