It all began with the drive to discover a "map of everything."
"What it comes down to is being able to zoom in anywhere on the world and see everything that everybody knows about that location," says Kevin Montgomery. "And, what we're trying to do is to try to put all the world's data at your fingertips."
Montgomery's company Intelesense makes maps, maps that go way beyond Google or Yahoo.
"What really jazzes us up is being able to make a platform that stimulates all these different groups to do a lot more than they could ever do without this sort of technology. And, all of our technology is really based on NASA World Wind," Montgomery says.
World Wind uses the Java programming language to animate every quake on Earth in real-time. It can visualize capacity at all clinics after the quake. It zooms in to every building in the entire country of Slovenia from mountain huts to dog houses. The instant a feral pig is trapped in Hawaii, World Wind can show it to you.
It was developed at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View where Patrick Hogan is project manager.
"The special part," Hogan will tell you, "is that the technology to do this is open source. The base set of imagery is public domain. When you mix that public domain with open source with the highly-optimized technology, you open the door for other people to do things that you never imagined."
Part of the secret sauce is new hooks to video game graphics cards which just became available. To paraphrase Isaac Newton, "If they have seen farther than others, it's because they have stood on the shoulders of gamers."
NASA is making World Wind available, complete with massive data sets, to any developer who wants to visualize information around the globe.