The van's drive-by snaps would be matched against GPS satellite positioning data and aerial photographs in a database. Police, insurance agents and others then could call up overhead and street-level views simply by entering an address.
The setup from Imageos Inc. was one of the security-related exhibits on display at this year's CeBIT America technology trade show, which opened here Tuesday. Other companies were showing software tools to secure wireless networks, monitor employee surfing and protect users from viruses and spyware.
The main market for Imageos' photographs would be insurance appraisals, but the Boulder, Colo., startup is also touting the pictures for "homeland security" applications, law enforcement and emergency services.
Imageos' Paul Jurasin said that thanks to the aerial photos, the database can show whether a house has a swimming pool or a fence in the back, details that could be of interest both to insurance companies and police.
"It gives them more information than they would get by driving up to a house, before they get there," Jurasin said.
So far, Imageos has photographed only Orlando, Fla. If it gets funding, it plans to photograph the 25 largest cities in the country over the next five years using more than a dozen vans.
Elsewhere on the convention floor, Hewlett-Packard Co. showed a laptop computer that is secured against non-computing attacks, namely water, dust and physical impact. The nr3600 is HP's first "rugged" laptop, an entry into a market dominated by Panasonic's Toughbooks.
Rugged laptops are aimed at workers who need to bring their computers to rough construction sites, deserts and combat. The nr3600, on sale now for $4,099 and up, meets military specifications for shock resistance and sealing against the elements. It is joined by a keyboardless ruggedized "tablet" for $600 less.
It has most of the functionality of a full computer: The Windows XP machine has a hard drive, built-in wireless networking and a USB port.
The OQO is designed for simpler tasks while on the move. When you sit down for serious work, you attach it to a docking station that connects to a full monitor, mouse and keyboard. The OQO thus aims to replace Palm-style organizers, laptops and desktops.
San Francisco-based OQO Inc. has been promising its gadget for two years. It says it's now finally shipping this fall for somewhat less than $2,000.
Nifty gadgets aside, the latest year's upswing in the technology business was in little evidence at show. Organizers expected 350 to 360 exhibitors, slightly fewer than last year, which was the first time CeBIT held an American show.
"It's OK. It's not buzzing with activity, but it's OK," said Farhad Keyvan, who was visiting from Bridgewater, N.J., where he runs a small software company.
Mark Dineen, the show's managing director, acknowledged that some large U.S. companies have "pulled away" from the trade show business.
However, Microsoft Corp. and enterprise software giants PeopleSoft Inc. and Siebel Systems Inc. were added to the roster of exhibitors this year, and a greater number of preregistrations led organizers to expect up to 50 percent more attendees than the 8,500 that showed up last year. The show runs till Thursday.
CeBIT America is an offshoot of the world's largest technology fair, which is held Hanover, Germany, in March. That show had 6,411 exhibitors this year.