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Google Earth Blog
One of our biggest stories of December was the problems with Google Earth search that were caused by an update to the way search results were displayed, a change Google made in late November. Google fixed most of the problems within a couple of weeks. It was evident from the comments that many people use the Google Earth “Get Directions” feature to measure driving distances between locations, which has become very useful for many businesses.
December also saw Google announce the long expected official deprecation of the Google Earth plugin. It will continue to work (in supported browsers) until December 12th, 2015.
December also saw the continued addition of 3D areas and we had a look at Black Rock City, New York and San Francisco. The two later locations received an update to their 3D that is of better quality than what they had previously. It was noted by readers that entering Street View in some parts of New York and San Francisco causes Google Earth to crash. Since then many GEB readers have reported similar crashes with Street View in a number of other cities around the world.
When looking around San Francisco, we discovered that Google Earth sometimes shows different 3D images depending on the zoom level.
For Christmas, we had a look at the Santa trackers and were a bit disappointed that neither tracker allowed us to track Santa in Google Earth.
We also showed you a model of Santa’s village in Google Earth, created with inspiration from the Santa trackers
Here is our wish list for Google Earth this year:
- An update to the desktop version of Google Earth. We haven’t seen an update to Google Earth for more than a year. There are a number of well known bugs in the current version and it is showing its age.
If the above update takes place, we expect it to use the new 3D graphics model demonstrated in the latest Android version. At the time off its release, Google hinted that we would see the new 3D graphics model used in other Google products before too long.
One major issue with the current version is that the street map data is not a live copy of Google Maps and hasn’t been updated for over a year. If the above 3D update takes place, then we expect it will use live Google Maps data, as the Android Google Earth does. If not, then we hope Google will at least do a refresh of the Google Earth street map database.
Continued expansion of the automatically generated 3D areas. We especially wish to see expansion of the 3D areas to Africa and Asia, the two continents where there is a notable absence of the new 3D.
The use of Street View to generate 3D at street level, complementing the 3D generated from aerial photography. The current automatically generated 3D is particularly poor at street level and when it comes to overhangs, such as bridges and trees. An alternative would be to simply use Street View to enhance the resolution of building facades in cities.
Historical Street View in Google Earth. Currently, the only way to view historical Street View is via Google Maps. In addition, as has been pointed out by a number of GEB readers, Google Earth does not correctly show the locations of user contributions in the form of Photo Spheres, even though they can be viewed in Google Earth.
What is your Google Earth wish list for 2015?
Google’s 3D imagery map shows the lack of 3D coverage in Africa and Asia.
2014 saw several new countries added to Street View, including Greece in June, Serbia in July, Indonesia and Cambodia in August, and Argentina in September. For a comprehensive timeline of Street View coverage see the Wikipedia page.
2014 also saw expansion of Street View coverage within countries, and greatly increased use of the Street View Trekker, with coverage of landmarks like the Pyramids of Egypt, national parks, beaches, coastal areas captured by boat, underwater locations, and buildings. For a tour of iconic places where the trekker has been used, see here.
A map of Street View coverage can be found here. Thank you to GEB reader Lynne for letting us know about this.
The most significant development in Street View, however, was the introduction of the ‘Historical Street View’ feature in April. This feature is only available in the Google Maps version of Street View and not in Google Earth.
Also of great importance are the contributions to Street view by individuals via Photosphere, as this provides coverage in places where Google has not yet sent its cars or trekker, or of events, such as the protests in Hong Kong.
Shirito Falls, Mt.Fuji, Japan. Captured with the Street View Trekker.
Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Captured with the Street View Trekker.
By the time you read this, it will already be 2015 in the Line Islands of Kiribati, as it is the first location on Earth to celebrate the new year. It is an interesting fact about the peculiarities of the dateline, that London, Kiribati (GMT+14), will celebrate its New Year before Alofi, Niue (GMT-11), begins its New Year’s Eve. For more on the oddities of the world’s time zones, see this YouTube video on the subject.
Here at GEB we have been celebrating the new year with virtual fireworks since January 2011, when Stephen Ho, whose work we have featured a number of times, created an animation of the 2011 Taipei 101 fireworks as a Google Earth tour.
View it in Google Earth by downloading this KML file.
Yesterday we looked at Google’s progress in imagery updates. Today we will look at the progress Google has been making in rolling out 3D areas in Google Earth. Back in September we worked out the area covered with 3D using the KML file we had released the week before. At that time, Google Earth had approximately 207 thousand square kilometers of 3D. Now, a mere 4 months later, there are 260 thousand square kilometres covered – an increase of just over 25%.
We don’t always know the age of the source imagery for the 3D, as Google does not indicate the date it was captured, like they do for other imagery. However, for some locations it is possible to identify the age of the imagery, such as Black Rock City the location of the Burning Man festival that was released in 3D recently. It turned out that the imagery was from the 2013 event, implying that it took Google over a year to process and release the imagery.
Thank you to all the GEB readers who have contributed by finding new 3D areas and letting us know in the comments. A very special thank you to GEB reader Anton Rudolfsson who has been assisting us by drawing the outlines of the newly discovered 3D areas in Google Earth. In late November Google released their own map of 3D areas, but since they only show placemarks and not the perimeters of the areas, we will continue to maintain our KML.
The cruise ship Marco Polo docked in Tromsø, Norway. Tromsø was recently added and is currently the northernmost 3D area in Google Earth.
Google has updated the ‘Latest Google Earth Imagery’ map, showing an update on December 17th. Thank you to GEB reader ‘AC’ for letting us know.
Latest Google Earth Imagery map – December 17th, 2014. Larger Version.
As is traditional at this time of year, let us look back at previous updates and see how Google is doing. Google provides a handy map of imagery updates from 2009 to 2014, although it does not currently include November and December this year. But even without including the large update on November 8th, it is clear that 2014 has been the best year yet for imagery updates.
Imagery updates 2009 – October, 2014. Larger version.
We have featured Colin Hazelhurst’s work a number of times before, including a recreation of the famous flight of The Spirit of St. Louis flown by Charles Lindberg, and James Cook’s circumnavigation of New Zealand.
He has recently produced a new tour he calls ‘Americons’ showing the Spirit of St. Louis visiting the Golden Gate Bridge. It is best viewed in Google Earth by downloading this KMZ file, as you can pause it at any time and have a look around at the scenery.
The Spirit of St. Louis flies under the Golden Gate Bridge.
He has also put a video of it on YouTube:
For more on Cook’s voyages be sure to check out Colin’s website.
This year, for Christmas, we have taken inspiration from our Halloween Pumpkin Earth decoration, originally created by Frank back in 2006. With additional inspiration from the Google Santa tracker, we created a model of Santa’s village to decorate Google Earth.
To view it in Google Earth download this KMZ file.
On December 3rd we told you about the two Santa trackers that are available this year, and pointed out that there was a 3 hour difference between the two count downs. NORAD’s count down expired first, but for the 4 hours following (as of this writing), the NORAD Santa tracking website has simply said ‘Santa is preparing for launch!’.
[Update: Soon after posting, the NORAD tracker came online. It is implemented with the Cesium Web GL Virtual Globe using Bing maps. In the absence of a replacement from Google for the Google Earth plugin, we can expect to see more and more websites using Cesium as an alternative.]
Google’s Santa tracker went live 2 hours before midnight of New Year’s Eve at the international date line. It shows Santa leaving the North Pole and following the approximate path of the antimeridien South towards his first destination, which is Provideniya, Russia. He will arrive there just after 9pm Christmas Eve local time. Santa’s gift deliveries must be estimated, as it shows Santa delivering thousands of gifts whilst still flying over the polar ice cap.
As far as we know, there is no way to view either tracker in Google Earth, which is a pity, as that is the ideal platform for it. Google Earth is largely responsible for the popularity that the Santa Tracker currently enjoys.
Google’s Santa tracker shortly after launch.
This year we look at a reindeer near Ersfjordbotn, Norway that the Street View car followed down a road.
A search for the world’s largest Santa Claus finds this article, claiming the statue in North Pole, Alaska is the largest, at 42 feet (12.8m) high.
Santa Claus statue, St Nicholas Drive, North Pole, Alaska. See it in Street View.
However, there has in past years been a statue in Auckland, New Zealand that at 18m (59 feet) was larger than the Alaskan one. But it seems that it was too expensive to maintain and has been mothballed for now. So to see it, you must look at historical Street View from November 2009.
Santa Claus statue, Auckland New Zealand. See it in Street View.
It is interesting to note that the little yellow Street View man is all dressed up for winter even though it is mid-summer here in the Southern Hemisphere.
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.