November 21, 2001
High-Performance Database Research Center
School of Computer Science
Florida International University
Contact: Martha Gutierrez
Phone: (305) 348-6262 or (305) 348-1706 | Fax: (305) 348-1705 | E-mail:
Address: 11200 SW 8th Street, Miami, FL 33199
Have you ever wanted to soar over the rooftops of your neighborhood? To take a peek at distant cities? To see exactly how far that "ocean view" hotel is from the beach? Now you can-without having to leave your seat!
Researchers at Florida International University's High-Performance Database Research Center (HPDRC) have recently unveiled TerraFly, a new Internet-based technology that makes it possible for users to "fly over" vast land areas using only an ordinary Web browser. By using high-resolution imagery collected by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other sources, users can experience an overhead view of almost any location in the United States at a one-meter resolution-without the expense of standard GIS application software.
Supported by NASA, the National Science Foundation, USGS, and IBM, TerraFly is "one of the largest, if not the largest, publicly accessible databases on the Web," according to Dr. Naphtali Rishe, head of the research group behind the service. "TerraFly now delivers imagery for the entire United States, and we're excited about incorporating additional areas around the world."
The breadth of TerraFly's GIS content complements substantial functional improvements over other web-based collections of satellite imagery, such as TerraServer. According to Beth Duff, the USGS chief liaison for both the TerraFly and TerraServer projects, the older TerraServer project, begun in 1997, was developed simply "to make vast amounts of USGS geospatial data available to the general public through the Internet." TerraFly, on the other hand, offers a full array of interactive features, including "a much more sophisticated interface that allows the GIS user to select and combine the data he needs into a product."
Customers can use TerraFly to integrate their own data with USGS data, yielding unique, professional-quality-and fully copyrighted-results. Says Duff, "TerraFly is able to provide the integrated data product (or hardcopy if desired) to the customer. The customer pays for those services and receives a copyrighted product." This is a very different service from the TerraServer, which provides digital copy and page-sized prints of public domain images.
Because TerraFly offers one of the most cost-effective paths to copyrighted GIS data integration, its creators expect to attract a large and diverse set of customers, ranging from local and regional governments to realtors, environmentalists, and educators.
TerraFly's data-integration capacities allow any of these groups to customize GIS data with graphic overlays that contain information specific to their industry. For instance, realtors might overlay information about property values, neighborhood demographics, and proximity of shops and schools, producing a comprehensive visual database tailored to the needs of their home-shopping clientele. Other industries could produce similarly customized results. States Rishe, "The possible uses for this technology are endless."
Of course, TerraFly is also a great tool for casual Web surfers, who can type in an address or zip code and be given immediate access to a detailed overhead view of their desired location.
The service, which made its debut on October 26th, 2001, has already received praise from a variety of media. Yahoo! has chosen TerraFly as a "Pick of the Week" for the week of November 5th, 2001, while Nature magazine included a detailed review of the technology in its October 31st, 2001, edition. The service has also been featured in recent editions of Science magazine, the Miami Herald, and other print press.
Those ready to take to the sky can find TerraFly on the Web at http://www.terrafly.com.
TerraFly is a project of the High-Performance Database Research Center (HPDRC) at Florida International University (FIU). The HPDRC and its constituent FIU-NASA Regional Applications Center (RAC) comprise 100 researchers working under the direction of Dr. Naphtali Rishe, Professor of Computer Science and the first-ever recipient of FIU's Outstanding Faculty Award. The U.S. government has funded the Center's work on database technology, the Internet, and data visualization at $17 million.