Google will generate 3D maps by using chartered planes.

Google plans to release the first three-dimensional maps for several cities by the end of the year, the company said at a news conference at its San Francisco offices on Friday.Google declined to name the cities, but it showed a demonstration of a 3D map of San Francisco, in which a user can navigate around an aerial view of the city.

“We’re trying to create the illusion that you’re just flying over the city, almost as if you were in your own personal helicopter,” said Peter Birch, a product manager for Google Earth.Google’s head of engineering for its maps product, Brian McClendon, said the company was using a fleet of airplanes owned and operated by contractors and flying exclusively for Google.

Asked about potential privacy implications, McClendon said the privacy issues were similar to all aerial imagery and that the type of 45-degree-angle pictures that the planes take have been used for a long time.Google has used airplanes to collect aerial photos in the past, such as following the 2010 San Bruno, Calif. gas-line explosion, but the latest effort marks the first time the company will deploy the planes in a systemic manner to build a standard feature in one of its products.

By the end of the year, Google said it expects to have 3D map coverage for metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300 million people. The first 3D cityscape will be available within weeks.Google has for years operated a fleet of camera-equipped cars that crisscross the globe taking panoramic pictures of streets for its popular mapping service. The cars have raised privacy concerns in some countries.

In 2010, Google acknowledged that the so-called Street View cars had been inadvertently collecting emails, passwords and other personal data from people’s home wireless networks.Collecting the WiFi data was unrelated to the Google Maps project, and was done instead so that Google could collect data on WiFi hotspots that can be used to provide separate location-based services.

The forthcoming 3D city maps will be part of the Google Earth software app available for mobile devices such as smartphones based on Google’s Android software and Apple’s iOS software.The company also announced a version of Google maps for Android smartphones that allows users to access certain maps without an Internet connection.

Shares of Google finished Wednesday’s regular session up 1.8 per cent at $580.57.Google’s announcement comes a week before Apple Inc’s developer conference in San Francisco, as competition between the two tech giants continues to heat up, particularly in the fast-growing mobile market.

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