My Google Map Blog

Archive for December, 2019






Google Maps 101: how imagery powers our map

by Thomas Escobar on Dec.14, 2019, 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

Earlier this year, we gave you a look at how Google Maps maps the world. Today, we’ll dive deeper into a main ingredient of the map making process– imagery–and how it powers one of our most popular features.


More than just pictures

When you think of imagery and Google Maps, you probably think of the Street View cars and trekkers that collect billions of images from all around the world. Today, we’ve captured more than 10 million miles of Street View imagery–a distance that could circle the globe more than 400 times! 


Or your thoughts may jump to Google Earth, our platform that lets you browse more than 36 million square miles of high definition satellite images from various providers–covering more than 98% of the entire population–to see the world from above. While these stunning photos show us parts of the world we may never get a chance to visit, they also help Google Maps accurately model a world that is changing each day. 


SV timelapse

How global Street View coverage has increased since 2007

How we collect imagery: cars, trekkers, flocks of sheep and laser beams

Gathering imagery is no small task. It can take anywhere from days to weeks, and requires a fleet of Street View cars, each equipped with nine cameras that capture high-definition imagery from every vantage point possible. These cameras are athermal, meaning that they’re designed to handle extreme temperatures without changing focus so they can function in a range of environments—- from Death Valley during the peak of the summer to the snowy mountains of Nepal in the winter. Each Street View car includes its own photo processing center and lidar sensors that use laser beams to accurately measure distance.

There’s also the Street View trekker, a backpack that collects imagery from places where driving isn’t possible. These trekkers are carried by boats, sheep, camels, and even scout troops to gather high quality photos from multiple angles, often in some of the hardest-to-map places around the world. In 2019 alone, Street View images from the Google Maps community have helped us assign addresses to nearly seven million buildings in previously under-mapped places like Armenia, Bermuda, Lebanon, Myanmar, Tonga, Zanzibar and Zimbabwe.
bermuda

Buildings mapped in Bermuda

zimbabwe

Buildings mapped in Zimbabwe

myanmar

Buildings mapped in Myanmar

How we process imagery: a vintage technique made new

Once we’ve collected photos, we use a technique called photogrammetry to align and stitch together a single set of images. These images show us critically important details about an area–things like roads, lane markings, buildings and rivers, along with the precise distance between each of these objects. All of this information is gathered without ever needing to set foot in the location itself. 


Photogrammetry is not new. While it originated in the early 1900s, Google’s approach is unique in that it utilizes billions of images, similar to putting a giant jigsaw puzzle together that spans the entire globe. By refining our photogrammetry technique over the last 10 years, we’re now able to align imagery from multiple sources–Street View, aerial, and satellite imagery, along with authoritative datasets–with accuracy down to the meter.



3d_paris

A 3D model of the Arc de Triomphe created using photogrammetry with Street View and aerial imagery

How Google Maps uses imagery: (hint - it’s everywhere)

Photos are great, but how are they useful for someone using Google Maps? Well, imagery is woven into every product that Maps provides. 


Live View, for example, is a tool that uses augmented reality to show you which way to walk, with large arrows and directions overlaid on top of walking navigation. For Live View to work, Google Maps needs to know two things: where your phone is located, and where this location is relative to the rest of your surroundings. Live View requires orientation precision down to just a few degrees, which simply isn’t possible using traditional tools like GPS signals. Being off by a short distance is fine when you’re driving, but this discrepancy can actually point you in the entirely wrong direction when you’re traveling on foot!


This is where imagery comes in. To see the most precise location possible, Live View uses a new technology invented at Google called global localization that matches up tens of billions of Street View images with what is on your phone to help you identify where you are and which way you should go – all in under half a second!


arwn_localize

Live View matches live imagery against tens of billions of Street View images in under half a second.

What’s next 

The idea of Street View started as a side project more than 12 years ago as part of a lofty goal to map the entire world. Since then, Street View combined with satellite and aerial imagery has become the foundation of our entire map making process and the reason why we can build useful products that people turn to every single day. Mapmaking is never done–and we’re constantly working to build new tools and techniques to make imagery collection faster, more accurate and safer for everyone. 


Join us for our next deep dive in the series to learn more about how we work to create a more useful, up-to-date map.



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Let Google be your holiday travel tour guide

by Katie Malczyk on Dec.13, 2019, 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

When it comes to travel, I’m a planner. I’m content to spend weeks preparing the perfect holiday getaway: deciding on the ideal destination, finding the cheapest flights and sniffing out the best accommodations. I’ve been dreaming about a trip to Greece next year, and—true story—I’ve already got a spreadsheet to compare potential destinations, organized by flight length and hotel perks.

But the thing I don’t like to do is plot out the nitty-gritty details. I want to visit the important museums and landmarks, but I don’t want to write up a daily itinerary ahead of time. I’m a vegetarian, so I need to find veggie-friendly restaurants, but I’d prefer to stumble upon a good local spot than plan in advance. And, since I don’t speak Greek, I want to be able to navigate transportation options without having to stop and ask people for help all the time.

So I’ve come to rely on some useful Google tools to make my trips work for the way I like to travel. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Let Maps do the talking

Getting dropped into a new city is disorienting, and all the more so when you need to ask for help but don’t know how to pronounce the name of the place you’re trying to get to. Google Maps now has a fix for this: When you’ve got a place name up in Maps, just press the new little speaker button next to it, and it will speak out a place's name and address in the local lingo. And if you want to continue the conversation, Google Maps will quickly link you to the Google Translate app.

gif of Google Translate feature in Google Maps

Let your phone be your guidebook

New cities are full of new buildings, new foods and even new foliage. But I don’t want to just see these things; I want to learn more about them. That’s where Google Lens comes in as my know-it-all tour guide and interpreter. It can translate a menu, tell me about the landmark I’m standing in front of or identify a tree I’ve never seen before. So whenever I think, “I wonder what that building is for,” I can just use my camera to get an answer in real time. 

using Google Lens to identify a flower

Photo credit: Joao Nogueira

Get translation help on the go

The Google Assistant’s real-time translation feature, interpreter mode, is now available on Android and iOS phones worldwide, enabling you to have a conversation with someone speaking a foreign language. So if I say, “Hey Google, be my Greek translator,” I can easily communicate with, say, a restaurant server who doesn’t speak English. Interpreter mode works across 44 languages, and it features different ways to communicate suited to your situation: you can type using a keyboard for quiet environments, or manually select what language to speak.

gif of Google Assistant interpreter mode

Use your voice to get things done

Typing is fine, but talking is easier, especially when I’m on vacation and want to make everything as simple as possible. The Google Assistant makes it faster to find what I’m looking for and plan what’s next, like weather forecasts, reminders and wake-up alarms. It can also help me with conversions, like “Hey Google, how much is 20 Euros in pounds?”

Using Google Assistant to answer questions

Photo credit: Joao Nogueira

Take pics, then chill

When I’m in a new place, my camera is always out. But sorting through all those pictures is the opposite of relaxing. So I offload that work onto Google Photos: It backs up my photos for free and lets me search for things in them . And when I want to see all the photos my partner has taken, I can create an album that we can both add photos to. And Photos will remind me of our vacation in the future, too, with story-style highlights at the top of the app.

photo of leafy old town street

Photo credit: Joao Nogueira

Look up

I live in a big city, which means I don’t get to see the stars much. Traveling somewhere a little less built up means I can hone my Pixel 4 astrophotography skills. It’s easy to use something stable, like a wall, as a makeshift tripod, and then just let the camera do its thing.

a stone tower at night with a starry sky in the background

Photo credit: DDay

Vacation unplugged

As useful as my phone is, I try to be mindful about putting it down and ignoring it as much as I can. And that goes double for when I’m on vacation. Android phones have a whole assortment of Digital Wellbeing features to help you disconnect. My favorite is definitely flip to shhh: Just place your phone screen-side down and it silences notifications until you pick it back up.

someone sitting on a boat at sunset watching the shoreline

Photo credit: Joao Nogueira

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