Bhuvan - Indian Earth Observation to compete Google Earth: Analysis

By Angsuman Chakraborty, Gaea News Network
Thursday, August 13, 2009

cartosat-2 satellite - to be used in case of Bhuvan - pic from livemint.comIndian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has launched a national variant of Google Earth yesterday, named Bhuvan (means Earth in sanskrit). This feature provides satellite imagery of geographical regions all over India and is optimistic about giving a tough time to Google Earth (much talked about service from Internet search company Google Inc. that allows ordinary people to take a close look at most parts of the world on their computer screens, using satellite images and maps.). While most of the reporters were elated about the grand opening of a service for our own country, no one looked beyond the press release I suppose. But we did. And what we found was really something not to brag about, at least for now.

The Myth

Let me show you some excerpts from the leading newspaper agencies from India and Wikipedia to give you a better picture of what it is to be about:

Times of India

Top space scientists were present at the launch ceremony at a workshop organised by Astronautical Society of India in New Delhi. Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), a part of Isro, had a lead role in designing and developing ‘Bhuvan’. It focuses on rural and thematic applications like wasteland mapping and terrain profile. It contains weather details like humidity levels. The new portal shows data which has been approved by the government of India. ‘‘Sensitive information has been kept out of the public domain,’’ said Jayaraman.

Indian Express

Bhuvan currently only offers images taken between one and three years ago even over India. It combines satellite imagery from various sensors onboard IRS (Indian Remote Sensing) satellites and transposes them on a 3-D globe. As it keeps updating its database with more recent and higher resolution images, Bhuvan eventually promises to offer real-time data and images.


Bhuvan will feature a zoom level of upto 10 meters while the Google Earth features a zoom level of up to 200 meters. The new ISRO Bhuvan will also feature a multi layer information mapping while the present Google Earth features a single layer information mapping system

Livemint (by far the best coverage and they at least didn’t copy and paste from the PR)

Unlike Google Earth, the Bhuvan application will not be downloadable and will not allow users to host content in the near future. “We are not competing with Google,” said Jayaraman. A Google spokesperson declined to comment. Bhuvan is one project where high technology will benefit common people. In the current economic slowdown, if someone needs to analyze land for a project, the platform could be used and at no cost,” said Nag, a former surveyor general of India. Even in a village, if you need to analyse crop patterns, the images should be of high quality.

The Difference of Bhuvan and Google Earth in a Nutshell

  • Google Earth’s Zoom levels up to 200 mt – ISRO’s Bhuvan claims to Zoom levels up to 10 mt
  • Google Earth: Single layer information   –  ISRO’s Bhuvan claims to provide you with Multi-layer information
  • Google Earth: Images upgraded every 4 years - ISRO’s Bhuvan claims that Images will be upgraded every year
  • Google Earth: No alternate viewing options – ISRO’s Bhuvan claims that there are options of viewing on different dates
  • Google Earth: Uses international satellites – ISRO’s Bhuvan claims to use Indian satellites
  • Google Earth allows users to host content. ISRO’s Bhuvan is only viewable

The Reality

bhuvan screenshot

“Best viewed in IE 6.0 or higher. Ideal resolution: 1280 x 1024″

  • Have we heard of CBI (Cross Browser Implementation)?
  • Will I not care for a population of 1 Billion (that is if we remember that Mozilla Firefox has recorded 1 billion downloads worldwide!)
  • Most importantly what if someone uses Linux? is afraid of IE? loves Opera/ Firefox?

The site runs on Flash

Yes. you heard it right. We surely don’t get it. Isn’t javascript a lot better than age old flash anyway? Why will I invest so much of effort and money to build up a technology that is almost abandoned in the developed countries that too for such an important project!

The site took 90 seconds to load just once

IE 7 bhuvan

We certainly don’t expect a website to reach the scalability of what Google achieves. But we certainly don’t expect an institution like ISRO taking 1.5 years to build up a site that is based on Flash, runs good in IE 6+ and loads in 1.5 minute either. Period.

Oh and by the way, we could still see it in Firefox but not in IE.

Lets be optimistic and think that its a temporary server problem that they will solve soon. But the essential two points above can’t just be neglected.


We are proud of India. There is no point in criticizing meaninglessly. But we certainly expect an endeavor from the brightest scientists of India to make anything that is better performing than this. It sure is an applaudable effort if it fulfills all that it promises (we saw the glitz through the newsmedia around the country who didn’t even make an effort to go beyound press release or words of mouth), but for now, its been 10 hours and we still see no earthy smell of digital India, yet.

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