Some have peered at the moon and gone on to map the galaxy or embark on a lunar landing. Others, like Douglas Willett, have peered at the moon and been inspired to launch a business — in this case, a 3-D modeling platform using Google Earth.
“I was sitting in my den in 2008, and I was looking at the moon on Google Earth, and I thought wouldn’t it be great to provide a service where you could 3-D map buildings on computers,” says Willett, president of LunaTech 3D in Novi. “So I started taking pictures of my hometown, in downtown Plymouth. Then I (made) 3-D models of them and submitted the finished work to Google Earth.”
Soon after, Willett got a call from a representative from Google. At first, he was worried he’d done something wrong. As it turned out, the search-engine giant liked what he had done. “One thing led to another, and we were soon doing 3-D street views for Google Earth, or virtual tours,” he says.
Once the offering caught on, business owners started asking Willett if he could bring his 3-D technology indoors. In response, he and his team took the street view service and paired it with a mounted camera that can spin 360 degrees. Today, the offering is called Google Business Tours.
While the search engine doesn’t share analytics, such as how long users are viewing the images, LunaTech 3D developed what it refers to as an “invisible wrapper” to provide key metrics such as what images users are clicking on.
“That’s key data, because it can help you see what’s popular, how long people are on a given site, and what they’re doing,” Willett says.
As a result, LunaTech 3D has built up an impressive list of clients, including all of the hotels in Kent County for Grand Rapids Experience, the Mall at San Juan for Taubman Centers Inc. in Bloomfield Hills, Sun Communities in Southfield, the Lingenfelter Collection in Brighton, and the Stahl Automotive Foundation Museum in Chesterfield Township, among others.
“We’re adding more mobile-friendly views, as well,” Willett says. “With Wi-Fi service, for example, visitors to downtown Plymouth can now get a virtual tour on their (smartphones). We see a lot of growth ahead of us.” db