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Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

Aerial-Imaging System Becoming Vital

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By BEN DOBBIN
AP Business Writer

"Where we're taking an image with a 40-degree angle, Google's images probably have a 5- or 10-degree angle, so you're getting a little bit of a side view but not a complete one," said Pictometry's marketing chief, Dante Pennacchia.

From planes flying in grid patterns, the land is snapped from at least four and as many as 12 directions and often photographed again every year or two. To assuage privacy advocates, the zoomed-in images turn fuzzy at a point where faces or license plates would become distinguishable.

The patented technology uses "a high level of triangulation to get accurate measurements and accurately locate these images," Pennacchia said. "All a pilot needs to do is know to fly a plane."

The images are mostly used by law enforcement and other government agencies as well as a growing array of businesses, from utilities to real estate agents. They help officials of all stripes prepare for high-security events, respond to emergencies, pick up after disasters.

Arlington County, Va., home of the Pentagon, was the first county mapped, in 2001. Images of New Orleans taken in January 2004 gave searchers a better idea of what they were supposed to be looking at after Katrina howled ashore last August and later helped evacuated residents decide whether or not to return home. Two weeks ago in central Florida, when a brush fire tore across 500 acres, 911 dispatchers scoured the maps for signs of homes and hunting cabins. Finding none was a relief but then they spotted a railway track bisecting the burning land. With a quick call, they managed to stop a freight train from passing through.


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