What's More Accurate Than GPS? Photographs

Locations identified within the 10 or 20 meters possible by GPS today are far too inaccurate — we need to know where we are we are right down to the millimeter! That was the gauntlet thrown down by Michael Liebhold, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future, speaking at a GigaOM Pro Bunker Session on location at the GigaOM office this week. With millimeter accuracy, augmented reality — digital information overlaid on a real-time view of the world — will actually become possible. “Right now we have all this toy AR,” said Liebhold. “This is useless.”

So how do we get to millimeter accuracy? To find out, we followed up with Liebhold for a video interview. He said the most promising technique is to build model of the world using photographs, some of them geo-coded automatically, and the rest of them mapped using an understanding of where they are by comparing them to other images. So a photograph of vacationers in front of the Golden Gate bridge could be pinpointed in position using the precise angle of the orange arches in the background. Google (s GOOG) Goggles is embarking on this very project, building a point cloud reference database using publicly available images like the ones from Flickr, said Liebhold, referencing remarks made by a member of the Goggles team at the recent Where 2.0 conference. (As is Microsoft (s msft), with its Photosynth product.)

The Google project is scary, said Liebhold. Scary because of the privacy implications, I asked? No, he said, because if Google wants to do this, it will, and it will be hard to compete. Everyone wanting to use the most accurate location data will have to depend on Google.

Liebhold did mention one promising startup effort in the space: Earthmine out of Berkeley, Calif., is building a set of street-view images captured in 3-D with every pixel geo-coded. (See our interview with them from a couple years back.)

Intrigued as to how soon millimeter accuracy might happen and what it could enable? Here’s the video:

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Report: Mobile Augmented Reality Today and Tomorrow

Image courtesy of Flickr user jmlawlor