On August 13, the National Remote Sensing Agency — a part of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) — put India on the global cyberspace map. It launched Bhuvan — a geoportal which allows users to explore the virtual earth on the internet for free in a 3D environment with specific emphasis on India.
So when one hears or reads about Isro’s Bhuvan, it is but natural to compare it with Google Earth and Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. Other prominent names are the NASA World Wind (open source software), CitySurf Globe,
SkylineGlobe.com, Marble (part of the K Desktop Environment), EarthBrowser, Earth3D and WorldView.
However, the soft-spoken V Jayaraman — the man who heads a 20-member team which designed and developed Bhuvan under the guidance of
Isro Chairman Madhavan Nair — implores that it not be compared with others.
“Comparisons with Google Earth are a media creation. Our data relate to India as of now. And I doff my hat to the remote sensing capabilities of Google. It is way ahead of us, and we do not wish to compete with either it or anyone else. Bhuvan is simply a virtualisation tool which helps us showcase India’s geo-capabilities. Moreover it’s in the beta stage and we are receptive to the immense user feedback we’re getting,” he says.
Bhuvan is not a new idea, explains Jayaraman. “We have been deliberating on it for some time, having played around with thematic data for years.” A doctorate in physics, Jayaraman should know. He has been with Isro for over 37 years. He was a design engineer in the Aryabhata Project for X-ray Astronomy Payload and a systems engineer in Bhaskara I & II projects. He was also programme director for Isro’s Geosphere Biosphere programme and has also published over 250 research papers, besides authoring a book.
Bhuvan, which means Earth in Sanksrit, allows users to view satellite imagery and value-added information on wastelands, soils, water resources, administrative boundaries, transport layers census information, and the like.
However, there are some irksome details. It is mandatory, for instance, to register. Then, you have to download a plug-in. The application opens in a browser (only Internet Explorer 6.0 and above currently) and one has to have a Windows operating system (OS). Google Earth, on the other hand, works on a downloadable client, and is OS-agnostic. Jayaraman insists, “we will definitely get it to work on Linux and open source browsers soon.”
Bhuvan also claims that it can throw up images up to 10 metres (compared to Google Earth’s details of up to 200 metres distance and Wikimapia’s up to 50 metres). However, there is no way to corroborate these claims (Jayaraman says he can’t put high-resolution pictures on the website due to security concerns). In the current version, you also cannot add your own data (something that you can do on Google Earth). Moreover, the search does not always yield the desired result, and the globe can take time to load at times.
Jayaraman says it’s a work in progress, and promises he will act on the loads of feedback he’s getting.
Despite its shortcomings and many flaws, 156,000 users have downloaded Bhuvan in just seven days of its launch. One may be tempted again to compare this with the estimated 400 million downloads of Google Earth since its launch in June 2005 (besides, Google Earth is available in 37 languages). Nevertheless, Bhuvan will go down in internet history as a major success for Isro and Jayaraman.