Terralink to 3D map New Zealand

Move over Google Streetview; make way for Terralink's StreetCam3D.

All New Zealand streets will be filmed and scanned in 3D by Wellington mapping company Terralink over the next two years using a truck capable of recording the position and appearance of every object within 100 meters with "pinpoint accuracy".

The million-dollar investment by the 76-person former state-owned enterprise, which is now in private hands, could make Google Streetview look old hat because of its use of a technology called called LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), also sometimes known as "laser radar".

Terralink managing director Mike Donald said that, along with high-resolution imagery, would provide a "near perfect model" of the street environment that engineers could use to undertake almost any analysis without leaving their office.

"Our plan is to capture the full 126,000 kilometres of roads. We'll start off with the major cities; Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin and the state highways in between and then we will move out to the regions."

Donald didn't believe there were privacy issues, describing that as a "misnomer".

"We are capturing what anyone can see walking or driving down the street and our business is around land and property information, not personal information."

However, assistant privacy commissioner Katrine Evans sounded a note of caution, saying her office had not been consulted.

"As with other companies using street-level filming, we would expect Terralink to have privacy-protective safeguards in place," she said.

"3D spatial data doesn't in itself necessarily create a major increase in privacy risk, but the technology involves high-resolution imagery. Street-level filming almost inevitably captures images of people, and the higher the resolution, the more care is needed."

Evans said she would expect Terralink to use "blurring or pixilation to de-identify people and vehicles" before its images were used or disclosed. "Particular care is needed when filming near sensitive areas as well, such as schools - it's best to avoid times when children are present - refuges and so on," she said.

Unlike Google, Terralink won't be giving away all its StreetCam3D street-scape for free online.

Some footage may go on the web, for example to help people research homes through its property information website Zoodle.co.nz, but Terralink hopes to sell much of the data it collects to the likes of utilities and local government - for example to help plan the $3.5 billion ultrafast broadband network.

Donald said StreetCam3D could generate millions of dollars of business benefits, for example by reducing the need for manual surveying by utilities.

The specially-imported truck could capture up to 1.33 million points of location data, in every direction, every second, he said.

StreetCam3D would let desk-bound engineers check the condition of road surfaces, buildings, power lines or the encroachment of trees "all within an accuracy measured in millimetres", he said.

Donald said it could also be of use in the aftermath of an earthquake. "By re-driving the affected areas, response organisations can compare and analyse 'before' and 'after' data, to determine for example, the lean of a building, without having to put ground teams at risk."

The Dominion Post