updated 07:25 pm EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Google Earth aerial images can be purchased, previously only viewable with API
Google opened up a new path for businesses looking for aerial photography this week, with an addition of Google Maps for Business imagery. The service now grants customers the ability to purchase aerial photos used in Google Earth from the continental United States, reducing the need for business to collect and store their own.
In the announcement from Google, the sale of images is only stated to be for aerial photographs, leaving out any satellite images from public sale. No mention of the price is made in the news, but Google tells TechCrunch that the pricing will vary depending on the organization. Google says the photos can be used for a number of different types of projects, such as mapping public service projects, evaluating property and reviewing environmental impact.
Part of the appeal of the new Maps for Business image sale is in how the images are obtained. Rather than having to deal with physical media or logging into an FTP site to download the images, Google allows the images to be acquired from the Google Maps Engine. It can also reduce the need to store a large collection of the detailed images by letting Google carry the load in the cloud.
Aerial and satellite images were previously available in Maps for Business, but had limitations on what could be done with them. Through the Maps API, customers were only allowed to view the images. No access was granted to download or alter the images.
The expansion into sales of aerial photography comes at a time when commercial drone flight is under fire from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA has been working on setting up new guidelines for drone use by 2015, including recently-clarified wording that would ban all commercial uses of drones. Currently, drones are being flown under a loose interpretation of the hobby and recreation provisions. For now, low-cost drone photography is in a legal limbo, leaving business to continue paying for higher-priced photographs from conventional airplanes.