European sat-nav users will soon be able to navigate through cities with 3D models of buildings and landmarks displayed life-like onscreen. Digital map provider Tele Atlas is set to release detailed 3D maps of nearly 50 cities for use in navigation devices and location-based applications.

The first detailed 3D city maps from Tele Atlas will become available in July, with cities such as London, Berlin, and Rome included. Further European, US and Asian city maps will follow over the next year. Tele Atlas provides mapping information for many major sat-nav and location-based product and service developers, including market leader TomTom .

The 3D maps will make navigation easier in cities, Tele Atlas managing director and COO Jack Reinelt told Tech.co.uk. They will present onscreen images that look more like the user's surroundings as they're moving through a city. As well as displaying prominent landmarks in 3D, Tele Atlas maps will feature textured cityscapes rather than flat representations.

3D satnav landmarks

Major landmarks, such as the Tower of London and Berlin's Brandenburg Gate will be modelled in detail on the 3D maps. The 3D maps will initially cover around 40 square kilometres per city.

Reinelt told Tech.co.uk that as the move towards pedestrian navigation and location services gathers pace, 3D imaging of street level points of interest such as train stations, bus stops and so on will become more important.

Richer 3D mapping is also expected to boost demand for new sat-nav systems. Tele Atlas claims its research shows that 81 per cent of consumers prefer 3D maps over 2D versions, with stronger interest in 3D city maps.