Microsoft Research India Thursday launched the prototype of a multilingual interactive digital map of the country that provides online access to geographically indexed maps and image data.

The prototype, done in collaboration with the Survey of India (GSI), enables users to add information relevant to communities tagged to specific locations on the digital map. Currently it has an online map of Bangalore in English and three Indian languages -- Hindi, Kannada and Tamil.

"As a pioneer in digital maps, we have utilised the virtual earth technology to develop the first multilingual, interactive digital map prototype for India. The web-based service provides online access to geographically indexed maps and image data," said Microsoft Research senior vice-president Rick Rashid at a demonstration of the prototype.

Accessible on research.microsoft.com/india]Microsoft Research India - Microsoft Research to users from next week, the prototype comes with the Windows Live local mapping service to access the virtual platform without the need to download or install any software.

The Microsoft Research India lab made use of the geographic data provided by the Survey of India to create the India-wide map, including the digital map of Bangalore.

"Going forward, we plan to develop a countrywide mechanism with the Indian department of science and technology for spatial data creation, collection and dissemination that can be used for multiple applications such as disaster management," Rashid said.

Launching the prototype, India's Minister of Science and Technology Kapil Sibal said the government would soon come out with a new mapping policy to allow the public to access information in digital format and add value to it with their contribution.

"A national spatial information data policy is before the cabinet for approval. Besides the common man, state departments, non-government organisations and public functionaries can have access with visual characterisation," Sibal said.

The new policy framework will enable stakeholders to provide information, spatial data and pictures in diverse areas such as education, healthcare, tourism, government services, status of infrastructure projects, utilities and public amenities.

The research lab is also working with the Election Commission of India to provide information on the location of polling booths and other data to empower the electorate.