Friday, January 16, 2009

A 3D virtual globe for your website

It is nearly impossible to get people to download and install software, I know from experience. Even Google Earth is only installed on a few million computers. Installing software or browser plugins is not allowed in most corporate and government environments. If you want to display geospatial content on your website and not exclude most users, your only choice until now has been flat maps.

With EarthBrowser, you can have a true 3D virtual globe that is self-branded with a custom interface that fits your special data requirements right on your website. There is no installation required since Flash 9 has about 95% penetration. With just a few lines of javascript (or as part of a Flex app) you can make your site really stand out.

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The first example of the EarthBrowser Flash plugin is up at earthbrowser.com with a simple interface that gives a hint at what is in the desktop AIR application and an easy way to download and install it. Download the free trial AIR app and take a look at all the great features. Chip in a few bucks if you like it and want to support my efforts to provide an alternative to the multi-billion dollar behemoths out there.

A small javascript program (about 350 lines) controls what data is visible and various aspects of the globe on that site. It lets you control the clock and camera elevation and toggle night shadows, clouds, doppler radar, earthquakes, snow depth and a set of 7 popular satellites which are all updated in realtime. Click on a satellite and it will zoom to it and smoothly animate the earth underneath in real-time using very accurate orbital elements (I've got permission to re-distribute satellite positional data from the US Space Command).

In my last post I mentioned that the demo app would not work on Internet Explorer due to problems with the JScript engine. Since Javascript is very close to Actionscript, I just made a few changes to the javascript code (adding ":*" after variable and function declarations) to make it compile into the Flash preloader. Now it works in Explorer too. However the special handling of mouse-wheel events isn't as nice so I'll have to hurry up on my VB getter/setter workaround I mentioned earlier.

The EarthBrowser plugin can read KML files and KMZ archives. It can also read Shapefiles and do coordinate projections using a ported version of the open source proj.4 library. There is a full set of GUI components including buttons, text input boxes, sliders, popups and scrolling lists that make creating a fully featured app simple. The desktop version is a pretty complex application but is written in under 4,000 lines of javascript. I'm working on the API documentation and am making a code repository so people can create and share their own components for use on the web or in the desktop version. As an example, adding one of the Free ESRI map layers to the globe takes about 3 lines of code.

I haven't mentioned it yet since I've not blogged in a while, but EarthBrowser did not win at the Adobe MAX show. Scrapblog won, they have a pretty cool app with a very well defined and active niche. It was a great experience and I met some really cool people. By the way, Ben Forta is *way* more impressive in person than his blog picture suggests.

12 comments:

Bjørn Sandvik said...

WOW - looks great!

Billigflüge said...

OMG!!! Well, obviously I have in my pc google earth, just like you say (I'm part of the millions) So, I have not yet heard about Erthbrowser and I found your blog just by surfing... cool... It seems really great and I'm curious about it. I can not say yet something about it, because first I have to test it and then I will tell you , how it worked!! ;-) Thanks for the recommendation!!!

harley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
harley said...

I see reference to links for the javascript source code, but I don't see any links. porting the proj4 to actionscript is a great idea. are you posting this?

reiserücktrittsversicherung said...

great, thnaks al lot. Greetings from goog old GERMANY

Searcher said...

That's an amazing app!Definately going to give it a try. I also hear scrapblog is pretty good too.
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Samsung Plasma 3D TV said...

Gona have to give this app a try i think. I will test it and report back.

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