Bhuvan: India’s Answer to Google Earth

I am big fan of Google Maps. The sheer amount of time I can spend on maps planning routes, looking at landmarks and generally loitering about, is simply astonishing. If I am still not satisfied I can continue to waste my time on views from Google Street View, which is just an amazing way to while away a few hours. Bing maps also deserves an honourable mention here for their implimentation of Bird’s Eye View.

But these two tools are soon going to be looking for takers in India due to the launch of Bhuvan (meaning: Earth). Bhuvan has been developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and aims to provide much more detailed views of India than currently available in any other virtual Earth type software. The resolution of the images in Bhuvan will range from 6 to 55 meters. Bhuvan is currently online and is based on the TeraExplorer software from Skylinesoft.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that people are going to be able to use Bhuvan for some time as there are quite a few bugs in the system at the time being. The first problem that I faced was that since this is an ISRO project, the url for the site is not easily remembered. I was fortunate enough to get a link from the Wikipedia article as even a Google search did not reveal the site. The Wikipedia article appears on the first page of results but the site itself appears in the second page. I mean who the hell EVER goes to the second page of search results?

My initial euphoria was however quickly thwarted as I discovered that Bhuvan was Internet Explorer only, not to mention Windows only. The website mentions IE6 and above but makes no mention of other browsers. I can tell you that it does not run in either Firefox or Chrome. After cleaning off the cobwebs from my Internet Explorer 6 I was able to get the online interface up and running. The procedure involved downloading and installing the TeraExplorer software and also registering on the Bhuvan website. The login allows you to access the Bhuvan interface.

The interface is more akin to Google Earth than maps as there are controls for not only the regular zoom-in, zoom-out but also for pan and tilt. The images also load more smoothly and give you the Google Earth feel rather than a maps application feel. While I tried to fly over to my home, Bhuvan refused to load images of the zoom levels mentioned on the website. I ultimately gave up after multiple tries to get the desired resolution. I can tell that the images are there as the tiles on the map seem to be in the process of loading, but the load doesn’t end up happening.  It didn’t help that there was no indicator for the loading part. I will be trying again on a different machine a little later on. I have done this and it still refused to show the high resolution images that it claims on the home page of the project.

While the screenshots in this article may give you a fair idea of how the tool works, please let me know if you have any luck in seeing Indian locations up-close and personal. For me, Bhuvan fails completely. I couldn’t see my house in high resolution, brand new satellite imagery (something I was really looking forward to), and therefore the other features were of no use. Maybe ISRO should have spent some more time on Bhuvan before opening it up to the public.

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