India has launched a rival to Google Earth, the search engine's hugely popular satellite imagery service.
The online tool, dubbed Bhuvan (Sanskrit for Earth), has been developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). Its debut comes as India redoubles its efforts to reap profits from its 45-year-old state-sponsored space programme, criticised by some as a drain on a country where 700 million people live on $US2 a day or less.
The new site also follows in the slipstream of the country's first moon probe, Chandrayaan-1, which successfully reached the lunar surface last November.
Bhuvan uses a network of Indian satellites to create a high-resolution, birds-eye view of India that is accessible at no cost online and will compete with Google Earth.
The data gleaned by the state-sponsored project will be available to India's civil service to help with urban planning, traffic management and water and crop monitoring.
Speaking last year, G. Madhavan Nair, the Isro chairman, said: "This will not be a mere browser, but the mechanism for providing satellite /images and thematic maps for developmental planning."
There could also be commercial spin-offs. Experts believe that Google Earth is being built as a platform for advertising that could be worth billions, and that Bhuvan will also address one of the issues taxing the web's biggest companies: how to engage users amid the mass of digital detritus that has accumulated on the internet.
Alex Burmaster, of Nielsen, the web analysts, said: "The amount of time that people spend online is reaching a plateaux and websites are battling furiously for attention. Anything that relates to where a person is, saves a user time, and makes the web more relevant - especially geographically - is big news."
However, mapping the shifting contours of the subcontinent may prove particularly difficult. One big challenge for Bhuvan will be keeping up to date with the explosive growth of India's cities.
A report by Gartner, the technology analysts, gave warning of the risk of relying on the "outdated information" used by Google Earth, which is now four years old and has been downloaded some 400 million times.
India's scientists may also be mindful that theirs is not the first country to take on the might of Google.
Check out Bhuvaan @ http://bhuvan.nrsc.gov.in/feature.html
Source : TimesOnline