Back in the mid to late 1990’s I had the pleasure of working for a pretty cutting edge research group called ABACUS – part of the Architecture Department at the University of Strathclyde.
Much of the work we were involved in was focussed around the use of IT (and later the web) to Architecture and the Built Environment, and Abacus developed what was at the time one of the biggest 3D city models – 25 square kilometres of Glasgow City Centre.
In 1998, I was challenged with the task of making the model available online, and using new and exciting visualisation technologies such as VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language) and QTVR (Quick Time Virtual Reality) – carried out a prolonged R+D period which resulted in a system we called “The Glasgow Directory”.
In short – An interactive Map/3D Model which accurately gave a true reflection of the real city with layers of data accessed on request. Our urban information system allowed web-based users to explore and “walk around” the virtual Glasgow model, highlighting areas of interest such as key city landmarks, tourist resources and more, with fancy 360 degree panoramic views of selected street-scapes… this sounding at all familiar yet?
When the Glasgow Directory was launched, it was very well received within the web research world, particularly those working in the field of VRML and city visualisation. As a result, I was fortunate enough to present a number of academic papers at various locations across Europe, highlighting our innovative system, and explaining our ideas to take it further in the future. Anyone know if Larry Page or Sergey Brin visited around that time?..
Ok – being serious – I don’t actually think that Google based their Google Maps (and more recently – Google Street View) on the VRML Glasgow Directory, but in retrospect, some of the similarities are astounding….
Above… George Square and the City Chambers… both systems have the ability to explore the “virtual space”, identify the street names, buildings of interest etc…
Glasgow Catherdral from the roadside…. left is the VRML Glasgow Directory, right is Google StreetView
Using the Map as an information system, searching for a good Bar in the Merchant City – in this case Bar 91
Unfortunately, much of the original source for the Glasgow Directory is now lost. Regrettably this includes a lot of the later research and development including embedding realtime audio, location specific navigation feedback (VERY similar in nature to Google Maps on the iPhone with GPS) and multi-user “avatar” based interactions.
Some links to material and examples that I did manage to dig up:
So Google.. if you’re reading this… own up – was it me that invented Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Street View? I’ll assume that I did until I hear back from you. In the meantime, I’m off to dig out that primitive working example of an online video sharing site that I remember showing to some Paypal employees back in 2001…