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Seznam, a Czech search company, previews 3D maps (mapy.cz)
274 points by rplnt on Apr 17, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments

Honestly, I'm surprised to see Seznam on HN. I grew up on Czech internet in 90s and Seznam.cz (or "Directory" in English) has been huge for long time until Google has eventually beaten them. The vibe I get here from comments is like as if Seznam.cz is some new hot company while it is really a dying dinosaur like Yahoo.

Maps are not core competency of this company. They are early Internet pioneers maintaining huge portfolio of various services for almost two decades. Maps is just another service they are working on to keep users from leaving them for Google/Youtube, Facebook etc.

Btw, I spoke to Seznam.cz founder briefly once at some business event in Slovakia back in 2000 when I was 17

edit: their maps are created by Melown.com, see example https://www.melown.com/maps/

I do disagree, that Seznam.cz would be a dying company (and not only because i am its spokes person). Maps are a very important part of our product scale. we do a lot to have the best maps in the region - most accurate, most up-to-date and best for users. we are working on our own Panorama, 3D maps like these 8 already revealed for the whole Czech Republic. and we have an awsome app for maps with on-line data for the whole Czech Republic. Is constant innovation a sign of a dying firm?

Hi, exactly, I would say that among Czech internet companies, Seznam makes the best (and most innovative) products. And I think it's quite cool that you're able to compete with Google.

Are you looking for an Android dev btw ;) ?

Innovative? Most of the time, they're inferior Google copycats.

A company whose frontpage looks like Yahoo cca 2000? "Constant innovation", right. More like "very much constant, always playing catch-up, and moping over long-gone glory of the 90s."

To sum it up with Wikipedia-like markup: "Most accurate [citation-needed], most up-to-date [citation-needed], best for users [says-who]."

Where would you date Google's front page? Don't judge a book by its cover.

I'd say it's a reflection on the pragmatism in the culture. (reluctantly generalizing)

u mad?

Sad, mostly. "Okay, the game is over and we have won, we are the king of the internet, no need to do anything anymore. (Internet ends at the border, btw)" This was 15 years ago.

Comparing Seznam to a dying dinousaur is extremely misguided. In terms of innovation and poduct quality, they're doing very well. They're slowly losing their search market share because it's hard to compete with Google but that doesn't mean they're dying. Also, it's the most attractive Czech IT company for employees.

Where exactly are they innovating?

for example: stream.cz user interface, offline maps for Android and iOS, winter maps, maps for the blind, new firmy.cz

I interpret innovation as breaking some new ground, doing something that has not been done before. Does any of the things you enumerated really do that?

Well, the stream.cz and super.cz user interfaces seem innovative. Maps for the blind too.

Did they ever try expanding into foreign territory? I haven't seen them even in Germany in the lsat 10-15 years.

Yes, but AFAIK only to Slovakia.

Based on the posts, people think that seznam.cz is a startup and Google will buy it like in 3,2,1. This is complete nonsense. Seznam is far from a startup and I am pretty sure their goal is not to get "only" acquired. Its mapping service is superior to google as far as Czech republic is considered. Well done guys!

Seznam has been around since the 90s! It used to be the default search engine in Czech Republic that whole time, providing not only search but the first email accounts, news, gossip, etc.

And their e-mail, search and that Yahoo-clone-for-a-frontpage is still in the 90s, FWIW.

The email client UI is stellar, I much prefer it to say, Gmail. The search only applies to looking up companies in Czech Republic, not general searching. And the homepage is adjustable, so you can put whatever theme you want on it. Far from Yahoo (though let's not forget, Yahoo's trying hard to wake up).

It's like igoogle (or whatever it was called) was the default homepage. Sort of.

Raises an interesting question about whether (and where) Google might be vulnerable to local rivals.

China is the most obvious example where Google simply haven't been allowed to gather mapping data to compete, but it's interesting that there are other places where they can theoretically compete but there are significant local players.

Seznam.cz started very early (in Lycos/Alta/Yahoo era) and there's also difference in the strategy. For Google, Czech republic is just another market area, for Seznam, it's the main area.

There's also South Korea, where the local giant (Naver) has ~70% search market share. (The company is actually making a lot of money in the Asian market from games and the Line messenger, so I think their "local market first" strategy is paying off.)

Incidentally, South Korea also has probably the craziest map data regulations: no map data can leave South Korea. So, if you want to serve map data, your server must be physically in South Korea.

I think they don't have majority in Russia as well. To Yandex I think? With Seznam, it was just two years ago or so that they beat them to first place in search. In neighbouring Slovakia, Google was first long before that. Simply because there was no real competition.

The Norwegian site Finn.no got 3D maps that looked exactly like this back in 2008. [0]

As the link explains, the technology originates from the Swedish air force, and was meant to guide missiles through urban landscapes. It was since commercialized for civilian uses by the company C3 Technologies.

This looks like it's exactly the same technology.

[0]: http://labs.finn.no/sesam-3d-map-3d-revolution-the-people/

C3 Technologies has been acquired by Apple, and they are using the technology in their maps apps (iOS and OS X). I think it's unlikely that Apple would license this technology to Seznam.

Is this different than, Nokia's 3d Maps? This is Stockholm: http://here.com/59.3314885,18.0667682,18.9,344,59,3d.day edit: I see this covers different regions in Czech Republic, whereas Nokia covers some well known cities all over the world.

I think that given that Google already has 3D depth coverage from its street view machines [1], it should be possible to combine that data with some medium resolution overhead 3D scans to create something similar, and likely even higher quality at the street level.

I wonder why Google hasn't done it yet. I don't think there are any real technical limitations. It may be that getting it fast is hard and the usefulness from an end user perspective isn't there yet?

[1] http://gizmodo.com/depth-maps-hidden-in-google-street-view-c...

The difference is that Google is using low-res satellite imagery, rather than high-res drone imagery. Maybe that will change now that they've bought Titan Aerospace.

Google uses drone imagery for some cities, San Francisco being one of them, using different angles to create the 3D model of the city, and satellite imagery for the rest of the planet. It's exactly what this company is doing. From what I can see, Google Maps also uses different textures depending on the viewing angle.

Check out https://www.google.com/maps/place/San+Francisco,+CA/@37.7623... and rotate the image. Check out the trees to see the seams of the different pictures used to create the textures/models.

That's pretty low-res to be drone imagery. If you look at that same area using the Google Earth plugin, it says that it's satellite imagery:


(updated screenshot to be from the same angle you have)

I think some of the cities that have come online more recently are a bit higher-res ( example: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Copenhagen/@55.6686089,12.... ). Maybe they'll reprocess San Francisco eventually.

That's too much detail for landsat.

I don't have any idea what they are using there, but they do pull in a lot of aerial photos from the U.S. government. Those photos are (largely?) taken from piloted planes though.

I'm not sure why you think it's lower res. It looks about equivalent to me. The trees look a bit odd in Google maps, but the quality of the building windows and cars looks about the same.

Here's a more nuanced theory: The building fronts, cars, etc look great because they are from street view. The roofs, treetops, etc, look terrible, because they are from satellite.

The roofs, treetops, etc. look terrible because the depth data is significantly lower resolution than the photos. This causes the deformed polygons you're seeing... The actual resolution of the photos of the roofs/treetops are just as good as everything else, they're just stretched over bad 3d data.

Does that mean this isn't cool? This is off the hook. Looks very similar to the iPad versions of Berlin.. high-res images quite a smart Level-of-detail differentiating between zoomlevels. With .bin files (maybe to keep the format closed? are just raw speed?)

If this is done in an automated way they are on to something pretty great.

Also to do this, is really really hard/lots of work. So kudos for that.

Seznam is also working on 'Street View'. Check this out: https://scontent-b-lhr.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn1/l/t1.0-9/10...

No, that's actually there, it's called "Hill of Abstraction"

Hi, I'm from Seznam.cz and I'm in charge of Mapy.cz. Let me explain a couple of things and correct some misinformation:

1) As was already said above, Seznam.cz is not a startup, it's been here longer than Google, and it's one of the biggest Czech companies (over 1000 employees). In terms of monthly user counts, it is still number one on Czech internet, in front of Google.

2) the imagery is not taken by drones, nor helicopters, but airplanes. Nobody is able to take imagery of large areas (hundreds of kilometres) by drones, it is only possible by airplanes, in today's state of technologies. We have our own imagery, not bought from anyone.

3) the 3D model is computed from the aerial imagery (ortofoto + oblique). No manual work is performed. It is a highly demanding computation, consuming months even on huge cloud of top-notch supercomputers - which is why it is not easy even for Google, to do it on large areas around the whole globe. The computation will run for almost one year, to create 3D model of thousands of square kms, which we plan to publish this year.

4) our maps earn money by selling our primary data, which we produce (ortofoto, oblique, Panorama, etc.), for commercial professional users (not only in Czech rep., but also abroad). The company as a whole earns money from selling media space on its 20-30 web sites (seznam.cz, firmy.cz, sreality.cz, novinky.cz, etc.). The company is highly innovative in terms of technologies (as I describe above), as well as in user interface (our GUI never copies other designs, we constantly create and test newer and newer GUIs).

Howgh :)

I find this very impressive. The fact that you can rotate arbitrarily and see correct textures applied to all surfaces of buildings/foliage is amazing.

Can anyone provide any insight into how this is done? Is there a dataset which specifies the detailed 3D layout of the earth? If so, how is it generated? Is there satellite imagery of all possible angles? Is this all automated, or is there a lot of manual work in doing all of this?

Very nice. I wonder where the source data (building textures, etc) came from.

"The dataset for this model was acquired within mere 45 minutes by a Pteryx UAV with maximum TOW of 5kg, flying 150m above ground level. The drone carried a consumer grade compact camera (Canon PowerShot S90) and took a total of 541 nadir oriented images. The resultant true 3D model demonstrates Melown Maps ability to capture façades even in the absence of oblique aerial imagery."

The paragraph is about another dataset, not the Brno city dataset.

I'm pretty sure it is all 3D scanned.

It is photographed from several different angles and then calculated.

The software for that is made by Citationtech, which has the same founder/owner as Seznam (Ivo Lukačovič).

I hate the use of the history API.

I don't want the back button to navigate the map!

Not in the time that I've started going here would I have thought that Seznam would make it here. You should check out their tile search feature!

They experiment a TON, all the time.

I actually think that this is slightly less detailed than the Bing Maps Preview, where I could see my friend's car parked in front of his research institute - I'm impressed that it's running in a browser though.


Far better than google, bing and apple maps. Nice work, seznam.

Why seznam does non exist in others European languages?

Czech republic is a little market, and if they focus just on Czech republic their economy of scale will be broke very soon. They need investment to update technology, but if their market is so little it became prohibitively expensive very quickly.

Why does the error message remind me of "This site is only accessible in IE5. Get it [here]"?

In other words, we seem to be rapidly drifting back into the Bad Old Days, when sites were made for a single browser? Not using Firefox? You're SOL. Not using Chrome? You're SOL elsewhere.

I opened in Safari and wondered what it said. I just dragged the link to Chrome to see what was going on.

Current Chrome here - aaaand nope.

The model is calculated from aerial photographs. The software for this was made by Melown Maps, a Czech computer vision company. See their website http://www.melown.com/maps for more models.

Vypadá to skvěle. Looking great.


Congrats! Great job guys!

Just a few questions - what algorithm do you use for geometry simplification? Is it based on quadric error metrics edge collapses? How do you join tiles of different LODs? Any papers on reconstructing 3D from your drones?

same stuff as apple maps, nokia 3d maps - low flying planes and lots of photos. Apple bought a Swedish company from Saab to do this

Nice to see it can be done with a single UAV and camera. Is there any open source software doing this?

Someone please build a nextlevel Command&Conquer on top of this. that would be wicked.

Sweet holy mamajama.

have they actually scanned this? or are they generating this from google maps imagery?

They have their own imagery.

Apparently we will see more real world cities in the future games, voila!

When is someone going to put maps like this into a flight simulator?

Complex meshes and photographic tiles are often used in flight sims, but the difference here is super accurate placement of buildings I guess (being a map). Here's a nice example of aerofly FS:


Instantly want to play SimCity again. It can't be just me.

Unlike Google 3D Maps, this actually works on my computer!

The city reminds me of City 17 in Half Life 2.

That's where I run. Very cool

Would Google try to buy the startup, hire the developers, or just reinvent the wheel in-house?

It's not a startup. It's older than Google, does basically the same (just local), and has been surpassed by Google (in search) only recently. After Google poured millions into web, radio, outdoor and TV advertisement.

Their big advantage is that they are local. The maps (mapy.cz) are superior to Google maps. In what data they provide and in general UX (my opinion). I don't know/use other products.

This approach is already being used in the wild. Apple’s maps have Flyover which looks to be exactly the same.

Check it out,: http://i.imgur.com/o80D3gr.jpg

Even the artefacts are similar, which is not surprising since both maps were created the same way (by flying over the city from different directions). the only difference seems to be that this Czech company is using UAVs and Apple is using helicopters (they showed an helicopter in their promo video, I’m not sure whether they are always using helicopters).

Apple bought the company that made 3D maps like this but I honestly don’t see the need for Google to buy anyone. This seems easy enough to figure out.

Also, Google doesn’t seem to want to do this. Stuff like this has been out there in the wild (even before Apple bought the company) for a long time, so they could have easily picked up the idea a long time ago.

They're most definitely not a startup, they're older than Google and do tons of different things - search engine (with more marketshare than Google last time I checked), news, offline maps for Android and iOS, browser for Android, email, etc.

I am pretty sure Seznam.cz won't sell to Google.

Also I wouldn't characterize it as a "start-up", it's one of the biggest Czech companies.

True, Seznam.cz was founded in 1996, two years before Google. Try clicking "Vybrat jinou mapu" - more map types available.

Seznam.cz is far from being a startup.


Thumbs up!


me gusta

Cool, I smell buy out in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... :)

I like the idea of bringing back more of the contours into maps once again. The move to flat satelite and Google Maps style stuff has meant the act of being able to navigate based on most efficient effort (e.g across contours not just A to B) is rapidly getting lost.

Based on Seznam's revenue I expect its market cap to be around $1bn., Google wouldn't get much from such deal. The technology is nice, but nothing new and as far as I know Seznam's reach is around 4—5M people (out of 7M internet users in Czech Republic), so fairly small market. — Also, I doubt Ivo (founder) would sell it.

Yet it's super awesome to see Seznam's quality of delivery to local market.

Check out the just released Mapbox Outdoors


This route planner shows elevation profiles:


I'm not sure how much it takes the elevations into account during the planning.

I've recently built http://cycle.travel/map which does indeed take elevation into account when planning a route.

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