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You guys know that we have this weird love-hate relationship with Google Earth and Google Maps, which have basically become de facto travel technology because of all the insane places that Google has photographed. For a small taste of our ambivalence, see here and here for discussions regarding the phrase "now you can travel without ever leaving the comfort of your home." Has a douchier thing ever been said, anywhere? Travel shouldand in a very precise sense, just isabout leaving your home.
That said, there are a couple of places we don't see ourselves traveling to. If Google wants to photograph those and dump them into Earth or Maps, we'll happily indulge ourselves for a few hours (read: days). Cue this news that Google Street View has just added shots of Namie, a city that used to house 21,000 residents but is right in the center of the Japanese nuclear zone created by the earthquake plus tsunami two years ago that destroyed the Fukushima plant.
We've long been worried about how the futuristic technology being built into Google Maps and Google Earth was pushing people to unironically say douchey things like 'now you can travel without leaving your house!' The problem isn't just that people are saying those things, though that's a problem too. It's that when you look at the direction technology is heading, those people might not be totally wrong.
Just to be clear, as travel junkies who like travel junkiism, we're not totally comfortable with the situation. But of course, we don't get a vote.
Google just wrapped up a live press conference announcing a bunch of Google Maps upgrades. The invite hit people's inboxes last Friday, promising that the Mountain View tech company would unveil features taking Maps to "the next dimension." Summaries are beginning to hit the web, and you can follow what happened from minute one by scrolling to the bottom of the CNet liveblog and reading up.
Originally there was some debate over whether the "next dimension" hint meant Maps was going 3D or getting a timeline. At the very least the 3D rumors were accurate. Google Earth project manager Peter Birch explained that technology has only just recently gotten good enough to make realistic 3D maps, with programmers now using "automated technology to extract 3D from aerial images" and then employing stereophotogrammetrywhich Wikipedia describes as a "sophisticated technique...[for] estimating the three-dimensional coordinates of points on an object"to reconstruct full 3D models of cities. Even the trees are in 3D.
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These "what will they think of next" posts about Google Maps are getting more and more frequentand more and more easy. We did a quick roundup at the end of last year, in the context of Google's airport maps. Since then they've added a bunch of useful featurescataloged hereand they've even begun inserting timestamps to Street View images. Helpful!
But there's an entire other part of Google Maps and Google Earth, which is the part where the images are just neat. There's enough material out there for entire galleries of wholly unintentional beautiful, weird, and even elegant photos (at least unintentional from Google's point of view; some of them were staged; hilariously). Not content with leaving things to chance, though, Google engineers have stepped up and mapped one of the world's most gorgeous areas.
We never have enough time or space to get to all the Google Travel news that we'd like. A few weeks ago we talked about their new airport maps, and a little before that we did an introduction to their burgeoning flight search service. Unfortunately Google Flight Search got dragged down by how the airline industry does business, and it has remained unimpressive.
On the other side of the success spectrum, though, developers and programmers expanded Google Earth to include gamesa move that involved airlines and has implications for social mediaand an MIT student playing around with Google Maps made a de facto travel itinerary checker.
But this post isn't about any of those stories. This post is about deep, abiding, biting, bitter jealousy.
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Google continues to make progress on their project of enabling you to see the world without ever leaving your house (sadly, not totally a joke). The company is adding more and more information to Google Maps, this time encouraging Japanese businesses to upload panoramic images of their stores to Google's Business Photos database, which is hooked into Google Places, which of course is embedded in Google Maps. The Japanese focus is part of a broader roll out, with Business Photos accepting images from US, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
The upshot is that, metaphorically but not really, you'll soon be able to navigate your way "inside" restaurants and shops digitally on Google Maps. Just like with other photos in the application, users will be able to pan, tilt, and zoom the 3D panoramic images of business. CNN's hyperlocal Asia travel site CNNGo, showing an admirable awareness of cultural sensibilities, mused that the feature will especially appeal to their "more shy" Japanese readers. We imagine that users elsewhere will find plenty of other uses, above and beyond the wow factor.
Christmas Travel / Santa Claus / Google Maps / Google Earth / Holiday Travel / Around the World Travel / → All Tags
Well, everyone; today is the day. It's the day we can begin "tracking" Santa Claus on his gift-giving journey around the world via NORAD's annual Santa Tracker. There once were days when NORAD, or the North American Aerospace Defense Command, would just send little Santa travel status update videos to the networks, for them to broadcast during newscasts, but these days things are tad more hi-tech than all that. Santa is being tracked by Google Maps.
Over at the official Santa Tracking websitewhich is a cute site to let your kids check every so often during Christmas Eveyou can
watch grass grow watch as Santa slowly (or pretty quickly, really) makes his way around the world, spending no more than 4 minutes in one place. He's already finished with the Pacific Islands (he got to visit Palau a moment ago), New Zealand, Australia andfrom what it looks likeNorth Korea. As we type this, his butt is getting stuck in some minimalist chimneys around Japan, as he's still got quite a while before he hits North America airspace.
If Google's corporate mission is to organize all the information in the universe, then apparently the task for Google Earth is to map and tag the universe itself. All of it. In the recent past, Google engineers have gone beyond mere, ordinary continents and mapped both outer space and the planet's oceans. Until this month, though, the default installation of Google Earth mostly had you zooming aimlessly around the seas. While this setup was fun and occasionally led to some comedy, at the beginning Google Ocean just didn't have the layers and layers of information that are attached to landmasses.
Google spent the last year working to change all that, and today we now have hundreds of informational placemarks spread across 20 layers. There's also a specific Ocean layer, created in large part with the help of Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue Foundation, that alone has hundreds of posts. As of this month that layer has reached critical mass, and from now on will be included by default in Google Earth.
If you've ever wanted to tour Pennsylvania's historic Civil War sites but can't imagine navigating the perennially-unfinished death trap that is the Turnpike, we've got good news! A new project spearheaded by the Pennsylvania Tourism Office aims to deliver the state's Civil War Trails right to your desktop, blending Google Earth technology, historical information, and incredible high-def GigaPan panoramic photos. The images are so detailed that you can literally zoom in on gravestone inscriptions, to say nothing of the centuries-old houses and towns that users are able to navigate.
The projecta collaborative effort mixing the talents of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth, Google, Carnegie Mellon, NASA, and the National Civil War Museumaims both to educate the public and to promote Pennsylvania's many historical tourist destinations. It's part of the state's broader Civil War Trails site, which catalogs everything Civil War-esque that has to do with Pennsylvania.
There's a very cool story dug up by Gizmodo recently, that Google Earth now provides an eagle-eyed view of an aircraft boneyard for the US military. We dream of visiting an airplane boneyard, but for nowthis might be as close as we can get. Here's what they have to say about its awesomeness:
The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), also known as the Boneyard, is a four square mile site in Arizona housing 4,000 retired aircraft—or at least one of almost every US armed forces plane since WWII.
And don't think that they are just rusting out there. Salvaged parts come from this place like nobody's business, helping to recycle what's left and regain some money. Sadly, there are no guided tours of the site. But there is this huge BBC image of it for us to drool over in the meantime.
· Google Earth's View of the Boneyard, Where Planes Go To Die [Gizmodo]
· Google Earth Reveals US Military's Biggest Plane Graveyard [Treehugger]
· Airplanes [Jaunted]
[Photo: Google Earth, Treehugger]
Google / Google Maps / Google Earth / Technology / Maps / → All Tags
A couple weeks ago we wrote up the new Google Maps Street View images for the San Diego Zoo. Definitely neat. It's hard to see, though, how those images could ever be transformed into anything "realistic." Ditto for the new Street View images that Google just posted for some of the world's better ski slopes and Winter Games arenas. They're eye-catching, and it's cool that they were able to mount their GPS-enabled camera on top of a snowmobile, but everything still has the feel of a standard picture gallery.
But take all of that Street View stuff, mix it with some Google Earth technology, and bake the combination into a full-blown virtual reality chamber - that's a different story. And that's what Google engineers have been doing with their Liquid Galaxy project, a kind of gazebo that they've been showing off at tech conventions. An upgraded version just made an appearance at the TED conference. Via Mashable, it does kind of look mind-blowing doesn't it:
This month's Conde Nast Traveler has a fascinating backgrounder on Google Earth and Google Maps by Mike DiPaola. It turns out that the ability to visualize every part of an increasingly interconnected planet might have a few consequences for tourists:
So, will the new technology relegate paper maps and bound atlases to eBay and Antiques Roadshow? Since ancient times, maps have included only what was deemed important by the mapmaker, with scads of other stuff left on the cutting-room floor. Now all of it can be stored and accessed, and a map can be customized not just by a cartographer but by you. A map can never fully be the territory it purports to represent, but as layer upon layer of information becomes available, the screen inches ever closer to reality.