Google Earth Blog
In September we talked about Google’s Ground Truth project that Google uses to keep its maps up to date. We also directed you to Google Map Maker, should you wish to assist with keeping the maps up to date.
But what if you notice something odd on Google Earth, Maps or Street View, or just have a question about something you see?
We came across this interesting story about a Frenchwoman known as Diane, who takes questions from people and goes and investigates by actually visiting the sites being queried.
See her site here with the things she has investigated and what she found. She calls it ‘A living search engine for unknown destinations’. She only investigates places in Europe and apparently hasn’t been anywhere this year. But it is an interesting concept that perhaps others could replicate around the globe?
Google have updated their ‘Latest Google Earth Imagery’ map showing an update on December 9th. Thank you to GEB reader André for letting us know.
Latest Google Earth Imagery map – December 9th, 2014. Larger version
The ‘Monthly Google Earth Imagery Updates’ map has been updated to show November’s updates.
Monthly Google Earth Imagery Update – November, 2014. Larger version
And for updates prior to that, you can use Google’s ‘Historical Google Earth Imagery Updates, 2009 – 2014′ map which includes all updates to October 2014.
Last week Google updated the 3D imagery for New York City and San Francisco. We had a brief look at New York and noted a problem with Street View crashing Google Earth. We also had a look at some interesting effects in the 3D around San Francisco.
GEB reader Jebster noted that the New York streets seemed curiously free of cars. Closer inspection reveals ghostly images of cars, and in some cases multiple images of the same car. It appears Google is using a new technique that we have not seen before, which involves merging multiple images. The overall result is that the roads appear to have fewer cars than one would expect. We do not see this technique being used in the San Francisco imagery.
Ghostly images of cars in New York City.
Some particularly good aircraft models at John F. Kennedy airport suggest Google manually improved on them. A noticeable absence of aircraft on the runways of what is a very busy airport suggests they were removed with the same technique used for moving cars.
There is an overlap between the old and new 3D imagery and they are not aligned perfectly, resulting in this broken bridge.
See the features discussed above in Google Earth by downloading this KML file
This has been expected, given that Google earlier announced that Chrome was dropping support for the Google Earth plugin due to security concerns with NPAPI, one of the technologies that the plugin is based on.
The plugin will continue to work in browsers that support it until December 12th, 2015.
Because of its usefulness, we hope that Google will release an alternative to the Google Earth plugin. Many plugin users have already started to migrate away from it to other technologies, such as the Google Maps API, or Cesium, but there is nothing yet that really replicates the best features of the Google Earth plugin.
Google does hint, at the end of their announcement, that there may be good news ahead :
Google Earth has a proud legacy, which continues with the new Google Earth for Android, powered by a brand new renderer. 3D is in our blood, and while we can’t announce anything just now, we look forward to sharing more exciting product news in the future.
Last week Google released new improved 3D for New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area, which they announced on Google+. We had a look at the New York update and GEB reader Piotrek noted that when you enter Street View in New York using Google Earth, the application crashes. We tested it and found that the same problem also occurs in San Francisco. It doesn’t occur everywhere there is new imagery, but seems to be confined to areas with lots of sky scrapers.
With all this new imagery, let’s look around and see what we can see.
The old San Francisco Oakland bridge is being demolished, yet there is quite a lot of traffic on the bridge.
This isn’t an earth quake, it is 3D imagery from different dates.
This building is under construction.
Zoom out a bit, and the building is complete!
To see the locations featured above, download this KML file
The post New 3D causing Street View crash in New York and San Francisco appeared first on Google Earth Blog.
Towards the end of November, Google updated the search engine that supplies results to Google Earth. We had a look at it and were initially impressed.
However, it wasn’t long before GEB readers pointed out that there was a major bug causing certain requests for directions to fail. We had a look at this issue and suggested a work around. However, there are quite a lot of people who regularly use the ‘Get Directions’ feature using placemarks in Google Earth and the workaround was rather laborious for them, so we started recommending downgrading Google Earth to version 6.1, as suggested by GEB reader Warren Jones.
The good news is that Google appears to have have fixed the ‘Get Directions’ bug. Thank you to Warren Jones for alerting us.
London to Paris by train.
There is still one usability issue that we hope Google will look in to. For quite a number of searches, only a single result is returned. This is dependent on which part of the earth you are viewing, but it doesn’t seem to have a particularly good algorithm, and since it frequently doesn’t offer any other choices, it can be a little frustrating. It would be better to guess the correct choice, but still offer alternatives. An example of this is searching for ‘London’ which flies straight to London, UK even if you are looking directly at London, Ontario, Canada.
We usually look at the World Trade Center on the the anniversary of 9/11 and over the years we have seen models of the old Trade Center towers from the Sketchup 2D Warehouse as well as models of the new towers at various stages of construction.
In April 2013, Google gave New York the new 3D mesh showing the World Trade Center towers nearing completion. Now Google have updated the 3D to show the towers now complete. Thank you to GEB readers Ryan, Jonahrf, Wayne and Anton for letting us know. It is difficult to tell how much was updated, or exactly when the new imagery is from. The 3D mesh was extended further to the east, but apart from that the borders were not changed, suggesting that only some parts of New York were updated. It would be very helpful if Google was to start putting dates on their 3D imagery, as they do for satellite and aerial imagery. Another nice feature would be ‘historical 3D’. Currently, if you turn on historical imagery, then you get to see the old user contributed models, which for New York are pretty impressive and often better quality than the new 3D mesh.
The World Trade Center. The reflections in the windows are particularly impressive.
Google pays particular attention to bridges.
The Statue of Liberty. Do our readers know whether this was part of the recent refresh?
Researchers from across Australia have joined together to develop detailed digital maps of the country’s soil and landscape attributes. They have put the data online and made it available for free. The maps can be downloaded for use in GIS programs, but at about 4Gb per file that is not something the casual viewer would want to do. However, they have helpfully made the maps available to be viewed in Google Earth. Just grab the KML file they provide and you can browse through the maps with ease, and Google Earth only downloads what you want to look at, at the resolution you require. Although I believe GIS programs can do something similar, when it comes to browsing through maps of this nature Google Earth is unique.
Map of Silt 15-30 cm : Estimated value
For more about how and why the maps were created watch this YouTube on their site.
For more also see this article.
Back in September we had a look at censored imagery in Google Earth. With Google continuing to roll out 3D imagery it is inevitable that they will wish to cover areas that countries wish to keep censored. Although most countries have little or no control over satellite imagery, aerial imagery captured from aircraft has to comply with the local laws.
Cephalonia International Airport on the Greek island of Cephalonia is one such instance. Instead of simply leaving it out of the 3D imagery, Google have rendered it in an interesting blocky pattern. There are, however, uncensored satellite images for the location, as well as Street View around the edges and user submitted photos captured at the airport itself.
Thank you to GEB reader Andrew for bringing this to our attention.
To see it in Google Earth, download this KML file.
Over the last week or so, Google have pushed out a significant amount of new 3D imagery. If you don’t have it already, be sure to grab our our map of areas covered so far.
One of the most interesting new additions is Black Rock City, Nevada, location of the Burning Man festival that we covered back in August and later saw animated gifs of that Skybox Imaging created. The actual festival only lasts a couple of weeks each year and is in a slightly different location each year, with different street layouts and physical structures. The imagery was essentially out of date just days after the photography was captured. There was a lot of movement, with many cars, trucks, caravans and even light aircraft moving around. There were new structures going up, tents and other structures with moving coverings and intricate shapes. All of this causes problems for the technique used to capture the imagery, which involves imagery captured from multiple angles during several passes, that works best on solid, unmoving structures with no overhangs.
To fly to Black Rock City in Google Earth, open this KML file. Be sure to turn on the 3D buildings layer.
[Update: As pointed out by Ron in the comments, the 3D imagery is from the 2013 event.]
One of several structures with intricate detail that Google must have put extra effort into modelling.
We are always on the look out for recent events that make it into Google Earth imagery. With sudden events such as the Napa Valley earth quake or the Koslanda landslide we only get to see the aftermath. Google Earth imagery is not real time, but occasionally we get to see events while they are still on-going, such as Hawaii’s Kilauea lava flows.
The on-going protests in Hong Kong began in late September. Since then, Google has added imagery for Hong Kong taken on October 12th and October 17th. Although you can’t make out a lot of detail, there are clearly some tents and a lot of activity on what is normally a busy highway. See the location in Street View to get an idea of what the area normally looks like, then have a look at this Photo Sphere to see it during the protests.
To find the location in Google Earth download this KML file
We found out about the story here.
Google have sophisticated software that automatically detects and blurs faces and number plates in Street View imagery in order to protect people’s privacy. It is not perfect, however, and we often get emails asking us to blur peoples faces or number plates in Street View. Occasionally people want all images of their house removed. Although we have explained how to do this several times in the past, it is worth reiterating:
- Open the location in the Google Maps version of Street View.
- Click the ‘Report a problem’ link found at the bottom right of the screen.
- A form appears asking you what you want blurred and where it is on the image. Fill in the form and click “Submit”.
Google will take appropriate action and let you know.
Occasionally we get queries from readers asking whether it is possible to obtain copies of the original unblurred imagery. This is usually a request from relatives of a deceased loved one who appears in the imagery and they would like to have the unblurred imagery as a remembrance. Although it would be nice if Google were able to grant this sort of request, it is not possible. It would not be feasible to create a reliable system to verify the person in the image has granted their permission, whereas simply granting requests without verification would defeat the purpose of blurring the imagery in the first place. In addition, many of the countries in which Google has Street View, have privacy laws that require Google to blur faces and number plates and to destroy the original images within a reasonable amount of time and thus, releasing such images would be illegal.
According to NORAD, the tradition of tracking Santa began as follows:
The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement misprinted the telephone number for children to call Santa. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief’s operations “hotline.” The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born.”
Soon after Google acquired Keyhole in 2004, prior to it being renamed and released as Google Earth, one of the Google engineers released a KML file showing Santa’s route around the earth and it immediately became very popular. Before long, Google and NORAD were cooperating on the Santa tracking mission, a partnership that continued until Christmas 2009, after which NORAD decided to start using alternative mapping products. At this point, Google decided to do their own tracking, so for the last few years there have been two Santa trackers available. Google’s Santa Tracker and NORAD’s Santa Traker.
Both sites have games and other activities to keep you entertained every day until Christmas Eve, when the actual tracking begins in earnest. Their estimates for when Santa will first be spotted differ by 3 hours. I am guessing this is because NORAD has radar stations near the North Pole and will be able to track him sooner.
Google Santa Tracker.
NORAD Santa Tracker.
For more on the Santa Tracker, its history, and the technology behind it, be sure to check out some of our posts from years past.
Last week we noted that Google had changed the way search results are displayed in Google Earth (desktop version). Several GEB readers have noted, however, that there are some problems with the functionality of the new search.
GEB reader ZEROibis pointed out in the comments that if you try to obtain directions by right clicking on two locations and selecting “directions from here”, and “directions to here” respectively, Google Earth inserts into the search box text like this:
from:53.4083714, -2.9915726 (Liverpool) to:52.6368778, -1.1397592 (Leicester)
and the search fails, flying you to latitude 0 and longitude 0. If, however, you carefully remove the sections in brackets and remove some of the extra spaces, then it does work, and provides fairly comprehensive directions, including different modes of transport and multiple routes – as was the case before the recent change.
There also appears to be no easy way to open the directions being viewed in Google Maps – a feature that used to be available.
If you wish to get directions from locations that do not have a clickable icon in Google Earth, then there are two options:
- Click the “Get Directions” link below the search box, then enter the addresses in the two input boxes that appear.
- Add Placemarks to the map for your ‘from’ and ‘to’ locations, then right click on them in turn and select “Directions from here” and “Directions to here” respectively. Then remove the sections in brackets from the search text as explained above.
Save to My Places
If you search for a location and it comes up in the search results, it used to be possible to right click on it and save it in ‘My Places’, or one could simply drag and drop it to the desired folder in ‘My Places’. Now, however, neither the right click menu option nor the drag and drop seem to work at all. Another option on the right click menu ‘Copy as KML’ also does not work.
Instead, both functionalities are provided by buttons that appear just below the search results – which do work correctly. This includes the ability to save search directions.
As we mentioned in our month end post last week, based on reports from GEB readers, we suspected that Google had released some new imagery since the November 19th update. This has now been confirmed, as Google have updated their map to show an update on November 25th.
Latest Google Earth Imagery map – November 25th, 2014. Larger version.
Thank you to GEB reader Chris for letting us know that Google have now published a map in the Maps Gallery showing the locations of the automatically generated 3D imagery. The map is dynamic so you have to zoom in to an area to see all the locations there. It maps cities and towns within the coverage areas rather than showing the actual outlines of the areas. We have compared it to our own map created and maintained with the help of GEB readers. We show the actual outlines, so as a result we have a number of areas that do not include large towns or cities and which Google’s version of the map does not include. There are also some recently added locations that are not yet – as of this writing – on Google’s Map, such as Dresden, Germany.
We did find several locations that Google’s map has that we did not. Some are locations we had missed and will be adding shortly. Two, however, Eskilstuna, Sweden, and Melbourne, Australia, do not currently have 3D imagery, but there are signs that they may do so in future.
3D imagery locations. Larger version.
The post New Imagery – November 25th, 2014 and 3D imagery map appeared first on Google Earth Blog.
Google has continued pushing out new automatically generated 3D areas although the pace this month has been a little slower than in recent months.
Earlier this month we looked at a misplaced satellite image. It appears to have since been corrected in Google Earth, but not in Google Maps as yet, and the change doesn’t show in any of the imagery update maps. The incorrect image is still visible in historical imagery. We also had a tip from GEB reader Jonah that there is new imagery in Bridgeport, CT, USA, which we have confirmed is visible in Google Earth, but not yet in Google Maps. This suggests there is another update after the November 19th one.
A misplaced satellite image over Koslanda, Georgia.
We had a look at a landslide in Sri Lanka …
… and a lava flow in Hawaii.
We remembered the fall of the Berlin wall, which fell 25 years ago.
What were your favorite stories this month?
Thank you to GEB reader Paul, for alerting us to a recent change made to the way search results are displayed in Google Earth. The changes to the search are not a change in the code of the Google Earth client, but rather a change in the styling of the results which come from the search engine. We recently explained that searches in Google Earth are based on the same database that is used for Google Maps, and thus the results are much more up to date than the mapping data found in Google Earth.
If you search for a location such as a city or country, typically a single result is returned with just the location name and marker.
A more general search may return lots of results, which are displayed both in an indexed list as well as points or markers on the map. If the results are businesses, then links to their web page (blue globe) or Google plus page (blue marker) are shown.
We recommend you change the Google Earth settings to open web pages in an external browser, as its internal browser is somewhat outdated and may not render all modern websites properly.
Also note that searches in Google Earth are location sensitive and take into account what you are looking at in the view window when you perform a search.
Last September Google announced that they would eventually drop support for NPAPI in Chrome, a key technology behind the Google Earth plugin. Then in September this year, they released a 64-bit version of Chrome without support for NPAPI and by extension, the Google Earth plugin. However, it was still unclear exactly when support would be discontinued in the 32-bit version. We also wrote a post showing you how some sites have decided to drop the Google Earth plugin in favor of other technologies with a more certain future.
On Monday, the Chromium Blog posted a more specific timeline for the phasing out of NPAPI. See the full details here.
From January 2015, the plugin will be blocked by default, but users will still be able to enable it.
From April 2015, it will be much harder, although still possible, to use the plugin.
From September 2015, NPAPI support will be permanently removed from Chrome and it will be impossible to use the Google Earth plugin in Chrome.
The post Timeline for the end of the Google Earth plugin in Chrome appeared first on Google Earth Blog.
Street View coverage continues to expand. There haven’t been any major countries added to the list recently, but within countries the coverage is continuously expanding, and in many places, being refreshed.
The most notable additions to Street View are being provided by the Street View Trekker, which was introduced back in 2012. It is used for capturing Street View inside buildings, such as the Burj Khalifa, off road areas, such as the Grand Canyon, and it can also be mounted on a boat such as was done for Venice and the Amazon. Google even created an underwater version of the Trekker, which is used to capture Street View under the oceans. Some of the most notable locations the Trekker has been used can be seen here. NBC have a short video showing how the trekker is used that you can watch here.
Yesterday’s post about Google Earth imagery updates got me thinking that there is no equivalent map for Street View. There is a map here that shows current coverage, and of course, in Google Maps and Google Earth you can hover the little yellow man above the map and it will highlight coverage areas. However, what would be really nice to have is a map showing the ages of the street view coverage. It could, for example, have a layer for each year since Street View started.
In the past, Google would publish a network linked KML file that showed the outlines of imagery releases, including all historical releases going back to 2009. However, early this year they discontinued it and instead have been publishing a map on the Maps Gallery that only shows the latest release. Also, other than taking a screenshot of the maps, there was no way to save them for later viewing.
Now Google have released a map on the Maps Gallery that once again shows us historical releases. Note that it does not currently include the two latest updates from November 3rd, 2014 and November 8th, 2014. It must also be noted that the dates given are not the dates that the imagery was captured, but rather the dates that the imagery was added to the Google Earth database. In many cases the imagery being added is older than previously existing imagery and gets added to historical imagery rather than the default layer.
There is still no way to extract the KML, which makes further analysis difficult. It would have been fun to do heat maps showing which areas received multiple updates.
If we look at all updates from 2009 to October 2014 we see the map below:
We can see a number of interesting patterns. There is poor coverage over tropical forests, deserts, and northern regions. Tropical forests tend to have cloud cover most of the time, making it difficult to capture imagery with clear skies. Similarly, the northern regions often have snow cover, making it difficult to capture good imagery. It is possible that capturing imagery over deserts is also difficult, or it may simply be that their low populations make them less interesting to imagery providers. Iraq and Afghanistan have received very few updates, presumably for security reasons.
[Update: As pointed out by GEB readers Maarten, Chris and an anonymous email, the ‘Latest Google Earth Imagery Updates’ map has been updated to November 19th 2014.]