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Most Popular Stories About Google Earth 2017

by Frank Taylor on Dec.01, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Although this blog has stopped regular blog postings, Google Earth still has a legacy of amazing stories and content. This post summarizes some of the most popular content found by our readers during the year of 2017.

The top 5 most popular posts (from any year) on Google Earth Blog during 2017:

  1. Secret Mars Base Found in Google Maps/Mars – Google’s April Fools joke for 2017.
  2. Google Earth Live – proving that a lot of people think Google Earth has live imagery. This 2012 blog post still is a top find in searches. Read this for why Google Earth imagery isn’t live.
  3. How often is Google Earth imagery updated in the continental US
  4. Maintaining a map of 3D City areas in Google Earth
  5. Google Earth Historical Imagery – This 2009 article is a popular search result about one of GE’s most powerful features. Sadly, historical imagery can only be viewed with the desktop version.

The top 5 most popular posts from 2017:

  1. Secret Mars Base Found in Google Maps/Mars – This one makes this list too.
  2. New Google Earth Web Version Available Now – Announcement of new web version of Google Earth back in April. Read my review for more in-depth impressions.
  3. Google Earth imagery update outlines 2016 – Timothy Whitehead maintained a great archive of all the 3D City locations for Google Earth. Unfortunately, Google stopped supporting features he used to create it, and Google still isn’t providing information about the data themselves. It still is very popular and useful.
  4. New Google Earth version – showing that the desktop version of GE is still very popular.
  5. Wishlist for Google Earth 2017 – Timothy wrote an insightful list of technical wishes for Google to implement for Google Earth in 2017 last January. Unfortunately, Google has done a poor job of granting the wishes with only a couple having been partially met.

The post Most Popular Stories About Google Earth 2017 appeared first on Google Earth Blog.

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This Google Earth Fan Site Ending Daily Blog Posts Starting Today

by Frank Taylor on Jul.31, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

This is a post I have been reluctant to write. I started this blog 12 years ago to bring news and share enthusiasm about one of the best software applications, and datasets, I have ever seen. Still to this day, I am amazed when I use Google Earth and the incredible wealth of data that Google has shared with everyone for free. I am going to start this post with a short statement and explain what our readers should expect. In a more lengthy background dialogue below, I try to tactfully describe what has lead me to this action. This decision was reached after a few months of consideration.

Announcement

I have decided, after a dozen years of publishing this blog, it is time for me to stop. As a fan, writer, and publisher, I really care about the Google Earth product, and our readers. But as a person, I need to focus my life on other things. It’s possible, if Google produces something really notable, I will write another post or two about amazing things of Google Earth. But, I will not resume daily posts. I plan to continue running the GEB server because many of the thousands of posts are found useful by Google Earth’s millions of world-wide users.

I will be directing readers to communicate with Google’s online help forums to try and obtain answers to questions. For a while, I will try and address some of the many comments and questions we get on the blog. But, those will stop soon. I will continue to respond to long-time GEB readers and friends by E-mail for a while as well.

I want to give special thanks to Mickey Mellen who took over writing this blog from 2009 when I left to sail around the world, and to Timothy Whitehead who took over in late-2014 when Mickey had to focus on other business. They both worked hard to maintain the Google Earth Blog purpose and style, and I greatly appreciate their efforts. We hope the readers of this blog enjoyed what we produced, and the help we gave in E-mails and comments, as much as we enjoyed doing them.

It’s been an amazing 12 years. I hope Google Earth, or superior successors, will continue for a long time to come.

Background Explanation

A lot has changed at Google in the 12 years this blog has been documenting Google Earth’s evolution. Many of those changes were good – the Google Maps and Earth division staff grew significantly, and new features like Panoramio photos, Street View, Google Earth Outreach, Google Mars, Moon, Ocean, and countless other features and layers were added to the product.

But, in recent years, Google Earth development languished. Staff was reduced, and during the last three years all of the top staff who were involved with its original creation have left (John Hanke left Google with Niantic – which created Ingress and Pokemon Go, Brian McClendon left to join Uber, and Michael Jones left to be involved with tech startups and investment groups). I enjoyed greatly working with these guys, and they were very supportive of Google Earth Blog and my efforts to document the enthusiasm of all things Google Earth. They were all peers of mine in the computer graphics and Internet development fields in the decades past. But, there were many concerns when they left.

I tested most versions of Google Earth over the 12 years, and gave many suggestions from both myself, and GEB readers. Google often listened and implemented many of the requests. Fortunately, a little over two years ago an effort to revive development efforts at Google for Google Earth was made, and a next generation version began development with a smaller staff.

Google as a corporation has changed, and, as often happens with publicly traded companies, their priorities with how they manage their products and relations with outside parties has changed. While they still cater to the big online and traditional news sources and pubications, their attention seems to have shifted away from standalone fan sites like GEB. Our blog is not the only fan site that has experienced this. Blogs like Google Maps Mania, for example, changed their focus and became just “Maps Mania” – a multi-product online mapping focused blog instead several years ago.

As Google eliminated most of the software developer hooks into Google Earth, most of the mapping developers have stopped, or greatly reduced, efforts related to Google Earth as a tool. The elimination early this year of support for the Google Earth plugin was the nail in the GE developer coffin – at least for now. The Google Earth Community forums, which once thrived with over a million members, has also dwindled in activity. It was the home of the biggest fans of Google Earth.

The new Chrome-based/and mobile app, version 9 of Google Earth, is the basis of the next generation future from Google. It was released in late April of this year. The new development team, headed by long-time Google Earth developer Sean Askay, has grand plans to implement many of the basic capabilities of the classic pre-version-9 Google Earth applications. As a first release, it shows great promise in terms of graphics performance and its ability to run well in the browser or on a mobile device. But, the web and mobile app version 9 only supports a subset of the Google Earth content, and is missing many of its better features. But, Google has committed to continuing support for the older version while they work on implementing more capabilities in the new generation. They have even recently added some nice tweaks to how the desktop graphics perform on version 7.3 of Google Earth. However, they demoted the better, desktop version, of GE to a link called “older versions” with the release of the first version 9 on the Google Earth official web home page.

In recent months, the new version 9 development team has presumably listened to feedback from GEB and its readers and either implemented, or indicated they will address, some of the requests and suggestions. But, responsiveness and feedback has mostly been slower and more cryptic compared to the past. Much feedback went without reply. In part, I think due to smaller staff, but also I think because Google has changed as a corporation and how it communicates publicly, and even privately, with testers. Their priorities with dealing with the public, and fans of their product, have changed. So much so, that the fun and joy of dealing with Google has disappeared. At least for me.

I realize all too well that many of the people who were die-hard fans of Google Earth 10 years ago, are no longer the fans of the product they once were. Many people have told me they can’t believe I have held on so long. As a long time entrepreneur, former CEO of multiple companies, captain of the seas and air, I am more persistent than most. Believe me, you have no idea. I have tried extremely hard to keep Google supporting Google Earth and its fans over the years.

In a rare occurrence in my life: I give up.

Maybe Google will one day again realize that their fans are important to the longevity of their products.

But, now that I’ve reached this decision, I want to turn my eyes to more optimistic pursuits for myself.

The post This Google Earth Fan Site Ending Daily Blog Posts Starting Today appeared first on Google Earth Blog.

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Performance Tests on New Web Google Earth

by Frank Taylor on Apr.24, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

The new Google Earth released last week is not yet a replacement for the classic Google Earth (version 7 and earlier). It is an early release of an effort by Google to completely re-write the 12 year old application to make it more current for new platforms the majority of people are utilizing today. Hence, the new GE is a web-based application and a mobile app. They started with a version which focuses on finding and learning about the wealth of information available in Google Earth. The new GE is still missing the majority of the value-added features that serious users of Google Earth rely upon. Google also focused on getting the new version to run well on the new platforms for the first release. This post examines the performance of the graphics update rates as it compares to classic Google Earth as a dedicated desktop application.

My perception at first was that the new web-based Google Earth was not performing as well as classic. Other people have said the same in feedback to this blog. But, my tests have revealed it is technically performing quite well in a web browser. But, there is a problem which causes a perception of slowness. Please excuse me if I get a bit verbose, but hopefully a few of you will find this interesting. Especially Google.

I have been running tests on an old laptop (2011 model), and on a new Windows PC with a brand new graphics card (current top consumer device). What I was interested in was the frames per second rendered of the 3D scene, because low frame rates can result in jerky movements on the screen. Anything less than 30 FPS is very noticeable, and for serious computer graphics users (especially gamers), less than 60 FPS is considered not good. But, ultimately, we wanted to know whether the new web-based GE was performing as well as the classic desktop application.

The good news, for those of you who are not technical, is that the new web-based GE performs very well and performs technically as well as classic GE on both Windows and Mac OS (on my older laptop). On the same 3D views of the same cities, they both tested at pretty much identical top performance once the scene had loaded. My faster desktop ran at full monitor refresh rates (144Hz) once things were loaded. The laptop typically ran at 60Hz or higher despite being almost 6 years old. Interestingly, sometimes a few locations seemed to load the data notably faster with the web version than with classic. But, I think this had to do with some anomalous data I discovered (and reported to Google) for a few locations. I did load the new Google Earth while on a hotel WIFI in New York on Tuesday and I didn’t notice any surprising issue with load times and it seemed comparable between the two versions.

Perceived Slowness

So, technically the new GE runs on a par with classic GE in terms of graphics performance. I was actually surprised by this result, because in the past web applications have run sub-par for graphics compared to dedicated applications. This may indicate Google made the right choice to create its next generation GE as a web application. We have to note though that it is only available to Chrome, so it is not truly a generic web application. Will they be able to make it run as well with other browsers?

Nevertheless, some people who have used classic GE have reported they feel the new one isn’t running as fast. And, I noticed this as well. This has to do with the navigational methods of the new GE (as in moving the scene with your mouse). Not technically the graphics performance. See points below.

Scroll Zooming

For example, if you use the mouse scroll wheel to zoom in, most mouse wheels will have a noticeable “click” for each increment of movement. With classic GE, they animate several frames of movement between each movement for a click of the mouse wheel. This gives a very fluid sense of movement. The new web GE does not do this. It just moves you the entire distance in one jump, which makes it seem you are “skipping” frames to move the same distance. I have already suggested to Google they should fix this and other points below.

Rotating with Mouse

If you hold down the middle mouse button (or hold down the SHIFT key and the left mouse button) you can rotate about a point you have selected with the mouse cursor. This can be a nice way to rotate about a building or a mountain for example. Here, both the web GE and classic GE seem to work similarly. You can still get a jerky behavior if you move your mouse in a jerky way, but if you move you mouse smoothly you get a mostly smooth “animation”.

Animated rotation

If you use the new GE “orbit” feature, Google will do an animated rotation around a point on your screen. This can be done with either the 2D/3D button, or the keyboard shortcut “o”. The first time you hit the button (or shortcut) it tilts to looking straight down (2D like). The next time you hit it, it tilts the view and starts rotating your view (although not the center for some reason). I do wish for a rotation speed control in the settings for this.

Classic GE doesn’t have this feature, but it was the first time I realized the new web GE was higher frame rates because the motion was fluid (high frame rate). Classic GE has a much better feature though. If you click and hold the right mouse button, while pointing at an object, in classic GE you can do a cinematic rotate and zoom in and out by moving right left and forward back. Here Google animates about each point of movement with the mouse and it is very fluid. It is my favorite built-in navigation feature in classic GE. Unfortunately, the new GE does not implement this right mouse button navigation control. Right mouse button on the web GE instead does just a basic zoom in/out feature, and does not animate between inputs so it is not fluid.

SpaceNavigator

As many of you know, the most popular way to fly around classic Google Earth for over 10 years has been a special 3D mouse called SpaceNavigator by 3DConnexion. Serious fans have these, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people complain they can’t use Google Earth without it after they have used one for a while. In fact, recently it’s been a very vocal complaint because the new web GE doesn’t support it. The reason is that classic GE supports this input device and all 3D motions are animated and it lets you pan, tilt, rotate, and zoom all simultaneously for a very cinematic experience. Needless to say, it was one of my first requests for the new GE. Please Google, support it! Your biggest fans will appreciate it.

Loading Times (Added)

As pointed out by @Ryan and @Jacobbs in the comments below, I neglected to mention that loading times on New GE are considerably slower on New GE verses classic. I hope this is due to optimization issues, and not due to issues in the NACL/browser architecture. Google will be able to fix things if it is the former. You can improve speeds a bit if you use the Map Styles to reduce the layers being loaded. But, the 3D imagery/terrain takes several seconds longer to load even on a very fast Internet connection.

Conclusions

So, these are the primary reasons I’ve found that the new web based Google Earth gives a sense of “jerky”, non-animated, motion when you are moving the scene around. The problem is not a performance issue, it is navigational UI implementation issues. But, these problems can be solved. Hopefully, Google will take the feedback and implement more fluid motion in a release you won’t have to download because it is now a web application. I should note that the mobile version of the new GE does move quite fluid. This may have to do with the interface for input from the touch screen being more intimately tied to the web application interface on Android. I expect the same results on IOS when they release an app for it.

Update: Loading times for 3D data and layers are slower (as mentioned above). This also is an issue that hopefully will be addressed in future optimization updates of the New GE.

The post Performance Tests on New Web Google Earth appeared first on Google Earth Blog.

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Google Earth VR Now on Oculus Rift

by Frank Taylor on Apr.18, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

I was just at the Google Earth press announcement today in New York. In a back room, they had Google Earth VR running on HTC Vive systems. After asking about whether they had a new version, they revealed they had a new version out which now runs on Oculus Rift (with Touch controllers). Google had done something similar where their 3D Paint program Google Tiltbrush ran first on HTC Vive. Then after Touch launched on Oculus Touch, they soon released Tiltbrush on Rift as well.

The new version also adds the ability to search for a place on a keyboard (using an onscreen 3D keyboard). The first version, released last November, was sadly missing this feature.

You can read the Google announcement here.

The post Google Earth VR Now on Oculus Rift appeared first on Google Earth Blog.

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First Review of New Google Earth

by Frank Taylor on Apr.18, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

New York 3D in New GE

New York 3D in New GE

Google has released a new version of Google Earth today that has been re-designed for a new generation of 3D mapping applications. This first release is not a program you have to download and install on desktop OSes (Windows, Mac, Linux, Chromebook). It is a web application that loads in your browser. Specifically, this will load today only in Chrome browsers. But, this means that platforms like Chromebooks will now be able to run a version of Google Earth for the first time, and support for Linux should be more robust (where Chrome is available – and other specs required). And, there is a mobile app as well (the Chrome version will not work on Chrome for mobile). The mobile app appears to be fully as capable as the Chrome version, but is only available for Android so far. So, Apple users will have to wait until an IOS app becomes available.

The new Google Earth version is only a subset of the legacy Google Earth (let’s call it classic Google Earth – version 7 or lower) in terms of features. But, it has obviously been carefully designed for a beautiful, user-friendly experience that is remarkably consistent between the desktop and mobile. It also looks a lot more like current Google Maps, so it is consistent with new interface design. This version makes it easier to discover new content, and visualize the 3D imagery of cities and other places that Google has been adding the last few years. This seems to be the primary focus of this release. You also have access to Street View imagery (and user-contributed photospheres) and can share links to specific Street Views.

From what we have seen, the speed moving around is comparable to the desktop Classic GE. This is significant as we expected there might be a performance hit compared to a dedicated install application. Google must have worked wonders to make this happen. We will do more analysis in the coming days, but I did some quick checking on frame update rates and it was comparable in performance between the web version to classic GE in tests on my laptop here. The user interface is not quite as fluid on the web as classic GE (more on this in a later post).

Feeling lucky?

There is a cool new feature that lets you push a “dice” icon that is the Google search equivalent of “Feeling lucky?” that randomly flies you to an interesting place on the Earth and provides a knowledge card about that place. The knowledge card can be clicked on to expand and share other relevant data and other places of interest surrounding it. This is a wonderful tool in my opinion as it will encourage people to explore in new ways.

Voyager

The new GE has a ship helm wheel icon that is labeled “Voyager” that is a new way to explore a wealth of content Google has collated for interesting places and things on Earth. They are like a tour of information about a topic which fly you to interesting places relevant to the topic. There appears to be a huge amount of information available.

KML Support Still in Early Stages

The new Google Earth does support KML. However, it is not a complete implementation yet. Google says they plan to implement more KML features in future updates. It also is not as easy to load KML content on the browser version. You have to go to “My Places” and click on a link to import KML you want to load. And, you have to have the file already downloaded. We will be researching what KML features work with the new GE and report on our tests.

Things Missing, Don’t Worry

This release of the new Google Earth is missing most of the creation tools more serious fans of classic GE like to use. All the features from classic to create KML content are basically not available. Also, a long list of important features are missing like measuring distances, historical imagery, time animations, tours, GPS tracking, Flight Simulator, and more. The good news is that classic GE will still be available, so you can continue to use it if you enjoy those features. And, you’ll be able to create KML content with it that can be shared with new GE. Google says future versions of the new GE will implement “many” of the missing features. No promises on all of them of course. At some point, the new GE might meet, and even exceed, the features of classic – and classic will probably stop being supported at that point. One feature they must implement though is support for the 3D mouse called SpaceNavigator. Serious fans of classic GE know this device is the best way to fly through 3D data. I made sure to point this out to Google – but, they already know it because lots of Googlers use it too.

Conclusions

As expected, this new Google Earth will not be a replacement for the classic Google Earth. There are too many powerful features built into GE’s 12 year-old system to implement all at once. But, the new Google Earth does an excellent job of providing a new generation experience for exploring the Earth with a wealth of new ways to experience our beautiful planet. And, it accomplishes the goal of moving the application from a legacy platform of different programs for different OSes (which have to be downloaded and installed) to a web-based model (with the exception of mobile) which can be updated transparently and quickly.

We will be reporting in more detail as we look at things more closely. But, we are impressed with this first release. We hope the public at large will really like the new application and maybe re-discover classic Google Earth’s more powerful features if they want to do more. If all goes well with its popularity, I’m sure Google will work hard to implement more features and capabilities in the new GE.

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New Google Earth Web Version Available Now

by Frank Taylor on Apr.18, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Went to check the Google Earth home page ahead of the press announcement this morning. Turns out there is a new home page which announces right at the top “Launch Earth for Chrome” with a big title saying “Gain a new perspective” followed by “Explore the reaches of the world, right in your browser”. Screenshot below:

New Google Earth

New Google Earth

Scrolling down the page and you see there’s a world to explore with a new feature called Voyager. And there’s a new Google Earth for Android version as well.

Back at the top, there is a button that says “Launch Google Earth” which all you have to do (with your Chrome browser only) is go to: Earth.Google.Com/web and you can see the new Google Earth which is out today!

As predicted, it appears today’s announcement is about a web-based version of Google Earth. And, it is WebGL based. In fact, I had a bit of a problem starting it because I have an old Macbook Pro (2011 model). The new version failed to load because it said WebGL wasn’t supported. What I had to do was open “chrome://flags” and select the first option “Override Software Rendering list“, select the “Relaunch” button, and then the new Google Earth version loaded in my browser. Hopefully, the vast majority of folks will either get the Android version, or not run into this issue on newer machines. And, those of you on Chromebooks will be able to open it too!

Upon launching, you get a first-time introductory tour which shows you some features. I checked out New York City (where I am now), and here’s what I got:

New York 3D in New GE

New York 3D in New GE

But, I can easily share this same view with you by simply sharing my URL. This is the same way Google Maps has worked on the desktop browser for a long time.

When you search for something, a little knowledge card appears about that place. If you click on that, the page expands and gives a lot more information about the place and links to related searches with similar information. This new version of Google Earth is very much focused on providing useful information about places.

There’s a lot more to explore and comment on this new version. But, I just wanted to get the word out now. I’ll be attending the press announcement and will report more in a few hours.

The post New Google Earth Web Version Available Now appeared first on Google Earth Blog.

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Attending Press Announcement for New Google Earth

by Frank Taylor on Apr.17, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

As was mentioned last week by dozens of media outlets, Google sent out press invitations to an event for April 18th to roll out a “brand new Google Earth” experience. I will be attending and will report on this long-awaited event!

New Google Earth

Google didn’t say much in their invitation, and we have yet to receive any press material. But, we believe this announcement will describe a new version of Google Earth that will work on desktop and mobile platforms. Our guess is that there will be a web based version on desktop OSes – most likely with WebGL, which is the predominant standard being used for graphics intensive web apps today. If it is browser based, it means more OS platforms will have access to Google Earth content. We’ll have to wait and see whether the new application will have new features beyond the current Google Earth, or a subset.

Google Earth VR Update?

There may also be announcements about new features/versions of the Google Earth VR application which was released last November for HTC Vive VR platform. There have been no significant updates to that application, and we expect Google is likely to release an Oculus Rift version (since they recently released a Rift Touch version of their Google Tiltbrush VR paint application for the HTC). Or, we may see a version for Google’s Daydream VR platform – although that will be a less-capable version since Daydream VR doesn’t currently support HMD tracking or full 3D controllers.

Other New Content

It’s also possible there will be an unveiling of more Google Earth 3D imagery (aireal imagery converted to 3D data using photogrammetry), and content especially geared towards the new versions. Google has a history of doing this for major updates to Google Earth. There was less 3D imagery added in 2016, but they may have been saving up for this announcement.

As long time fans of Google Earth, we are going to be watching closely to see if this new Google Earth will support popular features from the more than 12 year legacy of Google Earth desktop applications. Keep following Google Earth Blog during, and after, the event for all the latest news and analysis. We have been reporting on Google Earth applications and content for nearly 12 years now.

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The New Google Earth is finally coming April 18

by Frank Taylor on Apr.13, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Google has sent press invitations announcing a first look at the “brand new” Google Earth on April 18. Just in time for Earth Day (which is April 22). Anyone reading this blog, which has been a fan blog about Google Earth since its inception in 2005, knows we have been waiting anxiously for a new version of Google Earth. It’s been five years since the last major release for Google Earth. We have been worried about the future of one of the world’s most popular applications during the past decade. But, Google has been promising us a new version is coming. They talked about it two years ago for Earth Day 2015, as the 10th anniversary of Google Earth approached. We can’t wait to see it.

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Google Releases Google Earth VR for HTC Vive

by Frank Taylor on Nov.17, 2016, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Google has released a free new version of Google Earth on a totally different computing platform: Virtual Reality (VR). Google imaginatively calls it Google Earth VR. Specifically, for now, this version is for the HTC Vive which is the only consumer platform with dedicated 3D controllers for interacting in VR. Download link for GEVR (from the official Steam page). You can watch the Google Earth VR demonstration video from the Google announcement below:

Based on my reviewing it today, Google is taking great advantage of VR with the new version. You can view the Earth, and all its places, in an entirely different perspective. Because, now Google Earth’s 3D content is fully stereoscopic 3D, and immerses you in cities, valleys, mountains, etc. You can use the 3D controller to fly yourself around, or drag the sun to get a different sun angle, or see the stars at night above your chosen landscape or city. Google has chosen to give you a non-human scale, so when you are viewing places like cities – you feel like a giant who can reach out and hug a skyscraper, or give a hug to Half Dome or the Matterhorn. Since the Vive allows you to move around your room, you can literally walk around mountains, canyons, buildings, and more. [EDIT: It is possible to change setting in the menu options so you can feel more human scale sized].

Google starts the program by offering you a basic tour which flies you to several well-known locations on Earth. The first time you experience it, you will probably have a strong “Wow” feeling as the scenery is stereoscopic 3D, and you can look in any direction. I sure had that reaction myself! In addition, Google uses 3D audio and music for the tours. In some places you hear city street sounds, in one you hear the church bells of a nearby cathedral, and in nature shots you might hear some wind or car noises from a nearby highway. It definitely adds to the realism of the scenes.

After the tour, you end up with a full view of the Earth in space (an amazing experience), and are then given tips on using the controllers to drag the Earth, and fly down to see whatever place you like. You can also pop up a menu that gives you choices of other tours, and selections of cities and places you might want to visit. The controls also enable you to take screenshots. One of my favorite features is that you can point the controller at the sun and drag it across the sky, or below the horizon to make the sky switch to night (where you will see the stars and milky way in all its glory).

There’s more to learn about the interfaces than you might first realize. One surprise I got is that if you point at the controller in one of your hands (the one which shows a globe with the current position) with the other controller, the globe grows to a larger version of the Earth with a pin showing your current position. You can then use the other controller to rotate the earth, and point at a rough position on the globe and drop a new pin to fly to that location. This is a very cool feature and immediately reminded me of the scene in the book “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson, that one of the original developers of Google Earth said was originally an inspiration for the first version of our favorite program.

Google Earth VR Controllers selecting location

Google Earth VR controllers selecting location

It’s great to see Google finally release something new and exciting for Google Earth. A new version of Google Earth has been rumored for over two years for the desktop/mobile platforms that will be a complete re-write. But, we have yet to see even a test version in the wild for the new Google Earth. So, we are still waiting.

Since I’ve been spending the last year working with VR technologies, I’m particularly glad to see Google Earth for this new exciting immersive platform. They have released the program for the HTC Vive via the Steam gaming platform (the Vive was largely developed by the makers of Steam at Valve Corporation), which is the biggest platform for VR content. Considering the cost for HTC Vive ($800 – not including a beefy PC and graphics card), and it having been released less than a year ago, there are estimated to be fewer than 300,000 Vive owners at this point. Still, for Google to release now is a big statement about the future of VR. I suspect versions for Oculus Rift and Sony Playstation VR, and quite probably for Google’s new Daydream View VR platform.

Some other observations about Google Earth VR:

1) They use a “comfort mode” technique (dwhich you can turn off in the menus) which shrinks your view while you are “flying” in Google Earth. This minimizes your peripheral vision and thereby helps lower visual-induced motion sickness. It’s actually quite effective. I tried turning it off in the menu and definitely felt less comfortable when flying inside VR. Once you stop moving, you get the full 360 panorama back, and you can still swivel your view while flying.

2) If you are looking to buy the Vive, HTC is now bundling Google Earth VR with it. Which is kind of silly when you consider its a free app, so it’s not exactly a value add.

3) An important note is that the Google Earth 3D terrain is simplified in in detail for GEVR compared to what’s available in the desktop version of Google Earth. [EDIT: Turns out GEVR made me realize Google at some point reduced 3D terrain fidelity for some places where formerly they had higher resolution data. After checking the desktop I found both GEVR and desktop GE now have lower resolution in formerly higher resolution locations.]

4) If you are standing in your room with your Vive (as most Vive users do), then you will notice you never are lower than about 50 meters off the ground. If you want to look closer at the ground, you can get your head closer to the ground (where you are standing) and look closer. This might not be obvious at first, so I thought I would mention it.

The post Google Releases Google Earth VR for HTC Vive appeared first on Google Earth Blog.

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Space Engine – to Infinity and Beyond

by Frank Taylor on Feb.18, 2016, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

I still remember the first time I used Google Earth and how my sense of wonder grew as I realized the amazing capabilities of the program to portray our planet Earth at new levels of detail with a huge source of data both in aerial imagery, but also in 3D. It has been a long time since I found a program which generated the same sense of wonder. Until now.

Space Engine

Space Engine

I recently ran across an application called Space Engine which was reported to produce amazing visualizations of space and let you tour not only our solar system and nearby stars, but also stars throughout the Milky Way. Even better, the developer uses an algorithm to create planets, moons, asteroids and comets for as many star systems as astronomers currently believe exist, throughout our galaxy. Beyond that, Space Engine generates them for galaxies throughout the universe as we know it. So, you can literally visit trillions upon trillions of stars and planets (if you had enough time!) for endless galaxies. When you visit a planet, moon or asteroid’s surface, the program procedurally creates 3D terrain and textures to make the surface appear more realistic. To put this in perspective, this program lets you have an entire Universe to explore inside your own computer. Wow! However, it does require a relatively powerful desktop computer (or gaming laptop) with a beefy video card to run well (see the minimum specs in the download link at his web site).

My feeling was just as enthusiastic viewing Space Engine as the first time I saw Google Earth. What really amazed me was seeing the beauty of our universe when portrayed using more current graphics technology, and the endless sense of exploration to discover new worlds. Space Engine allows you to experience the awe and wonder of the Universe and capture your memories to share with others.

binary

Space Engine uses data from dozens of astronomical databases to accurately portray the physical characteristics for all the known systems. It also extrapolates the characteristics for stars and planets beyond to fill our galaxy and other galaxies based on theoretical compositions. You can easily see the physical characteristics (size, mass, gravity, atmosphere, temperature extremes, and whether a planet could support life). In a sense it is more of a sandbox simulation, or a game, than a mirror of our universe.

It’s important to note that your movement in Space Engine isn’t limited by silly physical laws like the speed of light, so you are able to travel to other systems throughout the Universe in very reasonable amounts of time. If you were limited to our current technological and scientific abilities, and our understanding of physics (not being able to travel faster than the speed of light), it would take decades or centuries to even reach the nearest star systems to Earth.

I had plans for creating my own video demonstration of this application. But, I keep getting engrossed in the program. So, I’m sharing one of several YouTube videos about Space Engine to give you a taste of the experience. If you have dreamed of space flight, like I have, then you will most likely have the same reaction of awe and wonder that I do every time I use Space Engine. Watch this video demonstration by a gamer called Obsidian Ant who is just as amazed:

To make Space Engine more like a game, the developer has chosen to allow its users to add space ships and controls so you can fly through space as if you were an explorer and visit places. You can really get a sense of dimension when you compare objects next to a spaceship. The developer has even added support for virtual reality by supporting the Oculus Rift – so you can really immerse yourself in this universe.

Spacecraft near a moon

Spacecraft near a moon

Like with Google Earth, Space Engine lets you click at a place (a star or other object you see in the background) and see information about it. Then, you can click a button and choose to simply fly to that location and get a closer view. Using various controls (including that Space Navigator, mouse, keyboard, joystick or even flight sim controls) you can easily move around the various astronomical objects and get better views. You can even land on them. I find myself regularly taking screenshots (like photographs) of the amazing views I see in this program! I have long used space art as a desktop background on my computers, and now I have an endless supply of views that are as good or better than those I’ve used before. If you search Google Images, you can find many thousands of screenshots from this program on the Internet.

Also like Google Earth, you can save a place you are viewing like a placemark and visit again at a later time, or share it with your friends. So, in many ways, Space Engine has abilities like Google Earth, but extrapolates its range to the whole universe, not just our home planet. But, Google Earth remains the king when it comes to portraying our home planet (both in terms of realism, but also in terms of the amount of data about Earth). Google Earth’s Mars and Moon modes also have far more data than Space Engine about those bodies. Space Engine has prettier views though, because it uses more recent graphics technologies and isn’t limited to near-surface viewing like Google Earth.

What’s really amazing about Space Engine, is that it was created, and continues to be developed, by a single person. Vladimir Romanyuk is a software engineer who lives in Russia. He has not only developed this application, but also architected his own universe using his knowledge of software and astrophysics. He does get help from an active community for space ship models, feedback, and contributions towards planetary models and textures. His software is not officially released yet – latest beta version is 0.9.7.4. But, judging by his fans, and my experiences, this freely available program is getting close to ready for broader use. According to his community forums he is planning to release a version of Space Engine for the Steam game platform soon which will greatly increase its exposure.

I should mention that there are some comparable commercial space games out there which already have a more robust gaming architecture for space travel with thousands of active users. The most popular and comparable one I’ve seen is Elite: Dangerous. Space Engine exists, in part, because of the much older pioneer in this genre of a free program called Celestia which also let you explore space and even allows people to create educational tours. I used Celestia many years ago as well and mentioned it in early days of Google Earth Blog posts, but the application has not been worked on for a long time. If you don’t have a fast enough computer for Space Engine, you can probably download and run Celestia (Windows, Mac, and Linux) and enjoy its more limited capabilities.

Many thanks to Vladimir for his fantastic work with Space Engine. He has done something I always thought would be the next step after Google Earth and even discussed with Google. I wish Vladimir the best success as he introduces his universe to a wider audience and continues to astound us with future features and data. His application right now is a real joy to experience. It may be a little tricky to learn the more advanced features, but the Space Engine forums can help you figure things out. Space Engine only runs on Windows right now, but he’s asking for donations to help him add new features and versions for Mac and Linux. He has recently uploaded his latest version to 0.9.7.4 RC1 (release candidate 1). Download here (note the file size shown on the page).

All of the screenshots in this post came from Space Engine with permission from it’s developer.

Purple Nebula Backdrop

Purple Nebula Backdrop

The post Space Engine – to Infinity and Beyond appeared first on Google Earth Blog.

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