By Alexei Oreskovic
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc is deploying a fleet of small, camera-equipped airplanes above several cities, the Internet search company's latest step in its ambitious and sometimes controversial plan to create a photo-based map of the world.
Google plans to release the first three-dimensional maps for several cities by the end of the year, the company said at a news conference at its San Francisco offices on Wednesday.
Google declined to name the cities, but it showed a demonstration of a 3D map of San Francisco, in which a user can navigate around an aerial view of the city.
"We're trying to create the illusion that you're just flying over the city, almost as if you were in your own personal helicopter," said Peter Birch, a product manager for Google Earth.
Google's head of engineering for its maps product, Brian McClendon, said the company was using a fleet of airplanes owned and operated by contractors and flying exclusively for Google.
Asked about potential privacy implications, McClendon said the privacy issues were similar to all aerial imagery.
Google has for years operated a fleet of camera-equipped cars that crisscross the globe taking panoramic pictures of streets for its mapping service. The cars have raised privacy concerns in some countries.
In 2010, Google acknowledged that the so-called Street View cars had been inadvertently collecting emails, passwords and other personal data from people's home wireless networks.
The 3D city maps will be part of Google Earth on mobile devices, Google said. The company also announced a version of Google maps for Android smartphones that allows users to access certain maps without an Internet connection.
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