My Google Map Blog

Google Maps: your holiday sidekick

by Holly Day on Nov.17, 2020, 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 holiday season is starting—which means time with friends, family, and lots of food. And though festivities may be a bit different this year, there are still creative, safe ways to celebrate and stay connected. No matter what you have in store for the holidays, these Google Maps tips can help you stay informed, stay connected and save time.

Stay informed even while running holiday errands and traveling

1. Check out how busy a place is:Popular times and live busyness information can tell you how crowded a place typically is on a given day or time—and even how busy it is right now. This is especially handy during the era of social distancing: Check out busyness on Maps before you head to a restaurant, store, business, or place to avoid holiday crowds and long waits.

2. (New!) Find the latest information about COVID-19: If you’re thinking about heading out of town to another city or state, you can use the COVID layer on Maps to quickly see how cases are trending in the area. You can also access quick links to authoritative local resources so you know at a glance if there are specific guidelines or restrictions in the area you’re visiting. 

3. Quickly understand safety precautions from a business: If you're eating out or getting a head start on your holiday shopping, you can easily learn more about what safety precautions a business is taking. Find out if they’re sanitizing between customers, if there's safety dividers at checkout and if they require staff to have regular temperature checks.

If you need to, connect safely

4. Share your ETA:If you need to see loved ones, let them know when they can expect you to arrive with you just a few taps. 

5. Don’t get lost: Planning to meet up with friends outdoors and at a distance? When a friend has chosen to share their location with you, you can easily tap on their icon and then on Live View to see where and how far away they are—with overlaid arrows and directions that help you know where to go.

Save time so you can spend more time enjoying the festivities 

6. (New!) Get more done on drives:If you’re road tripping home, using voice with Google Assistant driving mode in Maps helps make the ride more convenient and enjoyable while keeping your focus on the road. Starting to roll out today as a preview, Android users in the U.S. can now get call alerts from Assistant, answer or decline calls by simply using their voice, quickly review incoming messages across apps in one place, and play podcasts and songs from hundreds of media providers—all without leaving the navigation screen. 

7. (New!) Don’t let your food get cold: If you’re taking a low-key approach to the holidays this year and opting to order in instead of cooking an elaborate meal, Google Maps can help. When searching on your phone for restaurants nearby, you can easily sort by places that offer takeout or delivery and place your order directly from Google Maps. Now you can also see exactly when your order will be delivered or ready to pick up on the app’s home screen—because nobody likes cold turkey!

8. Search along your route:  If you’re on the road and realize you need to make a stop—say you’re running low on gas or need to pick up a last-minute item from the market—use Google Maps to search for gas stations, grocery stores, or other places along your drive so you can tackle your tasks without going too far out of your way. 

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Br(rr)ing on the holiday trends from Google Maps

by Holly Day on Nov.17, 2020, 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 holiday, family gatherings will be smaller or take place virtually to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy. Indoor activities will move outdoors. And that international holiday vacation will potentially transform into an epic road trip to nearby attractions as you stop to sightsee at local hidden gems along the way. But even still, people are prepping to make classic holiday dishes, looking for ways to experience winter and finding new, safe ways to be together.

We’ve analyzed Google Maps data before and during the pandemic (for the purposes of this post, we analyzed data from March to October 2020) to see how people across the U.S. are getting ready for the holidays. Read on for top trends on how people are navigating, how they’re spending their time and what type of food they’re craving.

Dashing through the snow, in a

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Google Maps updates to get you through the holidays

by Dane Glasgow on Nov.17, 2020, 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 year, we’ve made it easier to find information that helps you stay safe, up-to-date, and connected. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve added nearly 250 new features and improvements to Google Maps to help you adapt to this new normal—from live busyness information for millions of places, to the ability to easily see critical health and safety information at a glance. And we’re continuing to invest in ways to keep information in Maps fresh, with over 50 million updates made to the map each day. Even as the holidays approach, we don’t plan on slowing down. If you need to be out and about this holiday season, here are four ways that Google Maps can help you get around safely and get things done.


Get around

Whether you’re heading out of town or staying local, keeping a pulse on the latest COVID trends can help you stay safe. Since we launched the COVID layer, it’s helped nearly 10 million people get critical information about COVID-19 right from Google Maps. 

We’re rolling out two new improvements in the coming weeks. The updated COVID layer on Android and iOS will soon show more information, including all-time detected cases in an area, along with quick links to COVID resources from local authorities. This is especially handy if you’re heading out of town and need to get up to speed about the local guidelines, testing sites and restrictions in another city.

COVID Layer V2

Now you can see all-time detected COVID-19 cases in an area and links to local, authoritative resources right from the COVID layer.

Avoiding holiday crowds might have always been your thing, but this year, we’re making it especially easy for everyone. If you need to take transit, Google Maps can help you more easily social distance with live crowdedness information. On Android and iOS globally, you’ll start seeing how crowded your bus, train, or subway line is right now based on real-time feedback from Google Maps users around the world (wherever data is available).

Live Transit Crowdedness

See how crowded your transit line is right now.

The right information, at just the right time

You may be in the mood to cook an elaborate holiday meal—or you may not. If you fall into the latter category, we’re rolling out the ability to see the live status of takeout and delivery orders in the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia, Brazil and India when you book or order from Google Maps on Android and iOS. Now, you can know when to pick up your food, or when you can expect it to arrive at your doorstep. You can also see expected wait times and delivery fees, and easily reorder your favorites right from the Google Maps app. And when it’s safe to head to restaurants, you’ll soon be able to quickly see the status of your reservation in 70 countries around the world.

live delivery

Now you can see the live status of your takeout or delivery order.

Get more done

Even without a global pandemic, the holidays are busy and you may need to spend some time on the road. Last year, we shared an early look at Google Assistant driving mode in Maps, and today, we're starting to roll out an early preview of the improved experience to Android users in English in the U.S.—with more features coming soon. 

Thanks to the new driving-friendly Assistant interface, you can easily get more done while keeping your focus on the road. Use voice to send and receive calls and texts, quickly review new messages across your messaging apps in one place, and get a read-out of your texts so you don’t need to look down at your phone—Assistant will even alert you to an incoming call so you can answer or decline with voice. You can also play media from hundreds of providers around the globe, including YouTube Music, Spotify, Google Podcasts and many more. Driving mode makes all of this possible without ever leaving the navigation screen, so you can minimize distractions on the road. To get started with driving mode, begin navigating to a destination with Google Maps and tap on the pop up to get started. Or, head to Assistant settings on your Android phone or say "Hey Google, open Assistant settings.” Then select “Getting around,” choose “Driving mode” and turn it on.

assistant driving mode

Assistant driving mode in Maps lets you get more done while keeping your focus on the road

While the ways we make life easier for you have changed, our commitment to do this has been there all along. Over the past 15 years, Google Maps has used technology to bring helpful information about the real world right to your fingertips. To make sure that information is as accurate and up-to-date as possible, we rely on 170 billion high-definition Street View images from 87 countries, contributions from hundreds of millions of businesses and people using Google Maps, and authoritative data from more than 10,000 local governments, transit agencies and organizations. We also invest in technical approaches that power some of our most beloved and essential features—from the 20 million places globally that now show popular times data to AR-powered Live View. 

Even in a pandemic, more than 1 billion people still turn to Google Maps to navigate their new normal—and our work is far from done. We’re continually working to build new features and services to help all of us emerge from this challenging time stronger than ever. So whatever your plans are this holiday season and no matter how much they’ve changed, Google Maps can make them easier and safer for you.

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Tips for holiday travel and beyond

by Richard Holden on Nov.10, 2020, 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

While many people will celebrate the holidays at home this year, 40 percent of Americans are still planning to travel. Here are a few ways Google can help you make informed travel decisions or revisit trips from holidays past.

Stay up to date on the latest travel information

When you search on Google for information about hotels, flights or things to do, check to see if there’s a COVID-19 travel advisory or restriction for your destination. If there are no restrictions, you can see indicators for travel reopening, like the percentage of flights operating or hotels with availability, directly in your Search results. On google.com/travel you can also see trends for flight and hotel availability over the past six months, as well as links to local resources, like the number of COVID-19 cases in the area.

Book accommodation confidently

Earlier this year we added a hotel “Free cancellation” filter on Search and google.com/travel to help you easily find properties with a refundable rate. In addition to refundable rates, many hotels and vacation rentals are taking additional measures to ensure the safety of guests in response to COVID-19. Now when you search for a place to stay on google.com/travel and view a specific property, you may see a tip when additional health and safety precautions, like enhanced cleaning, are being taken. Tap on the “About” tab to see the full list.

On google.com/travel on the hotels tab you see the Kimpton Brice Hotel overview with price and availability information. When you scroll down you see a badge indicating there are additional health & safety attributes. On a click, you are taken to the "About" tab where you see multiple attributes including enhanced cleaning, minimized contact, physical distancing, personal protection and food safety.


We’re working with hotels and vacation rental providers, as well as industry associations, to add more health and safety information to the results you see. If you’re a hotel owner, verify your business using Google My Business, and let guests know what measures you’re taking to keep them safe by adding health and safety attributes to your Business Profile. 

See local COVID-19 information 

If you’re planning to visit a new city, you can use the COVID layer in Google Maps to quickly get information about COVID-19 cases in the area—so you can make more informed decisions about where to go and what to do. 

Stay informed on the road

Once you’re headed out on your trip, you can use Google Maps to see helpful safety alerts along the way. If you’re driving, we’ll notify you about COVID-19 checkpoints and restrictions along your route, like when crossing national borders. If you plan to take public transportation, we’ll show you alerts from local transit agencies, so you can quickly know if government mandates impact transit services or require you to wear a mask while riding the bus, subway, or train.

Get nostalgic & relive past trips

For those not traveling this holiday season, you can use new features in Google Maps or Google Photos to take a walk down memory lane. If you’re using Maps on Android, you can soon access the new “Trips” tab in Timeline to see a summary of your past vacations, along with information about the places you visited, the total kilometers traveled, and the modes of transportation you used. If you choose to turn on your Location History setting, you can use Trips in Timeline as a handy tool if you’re feeling nostalgic or want to share vacation recommendations with friends or family. 

In Google Maps, tap on the Trips tab on your Timeline to see trips recently taken. Tap on the first one to France and scroll through places you've visited and destinations you've been to.

You can also see and share your past trip itineraries including hotels, restaurants and other places you’ve received reservation confirmations for in your Gmail by going togoogle.com/travel and tapping on the “Trips” tab. 

In Google Photos, you can already see photos grouped by location with theinteractive map view. In the coming weeks, we’re bringing Timeline to the Photos map view, so you can easily see the paths you took on a certain day alongside your photos—whether you captured that epic shot while hiking through Yellowstone, or while driving down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. You can choose to show or hide your Timeline from your map view's settings in Photos at any time.

If you will be traveling over the holidays, here’s a handy checklist to help you make informed decisions as you plan.

There are 4 phones showing different ways to help you plan travel over the holidays. 1) Search for something like "Hotels in Toronto" and you see a travel restriction warning. 2) Search for "things do in Austin" and you see reopening travel trends for Austin. 3) You can use a "free cancellation" filter for hotels 4) See health & safety attributes on the hotels tab at google.com/travel.
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An update on our efforts to help Americans navigate COVID-19

by Ruth Porat on Oct.27, 2020, 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 COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges and emphasized how important it is for each of us to do our part to help find solutions. I’m sharing an update here on how Google is contributing to keep people safe and helping to get American businesses back up and running.

Contributing to economic recovery efforts

As I’ve written earlier, to help small businesses gain easier access to badly-needed capital, we founded the $170 million Grow with Google Small Business Fund alongside $10 million in Google.org grants, with an aim to help the most underserved small businesses, particularly those owned by women and minorities. In collaboration with Opportunity Finance Network, more than $53 million dollars of loans and Google.org grants have been allocated to community partners who are focused on serving rural, women, Black, Latino and Native borrowers, which helps American communities start to get back on their feet. Tires by Papi and Bailiwick Clothing Company are two such examples.


Of course, our greatest contribution continues to be developing products to help people stay informed, adapt and get through this pandemic. 

According to the Connected Commerce Council, nearly one in three small business owners report that without digital tools they would close all or parts of their business. To help small businesses, we rolled out many new, free product features earlier this year, so that they can inform their customers about things like takeout, delivery, no-contact delivery, or curbside pickup. Today, people can now find this information on Search and Maps for more than 2 million restaurants and retailers in the U.S.


Using Search and Maps, you can find information about businesses.

We’ve used Google’s Duplex technology to make calls to businesses and confirm things like temporary closures. This has enabled us to make 3 million updates to business information globally, which have been seen by people over 20 billion times in Search and Maps. 


To help people searching for jobs, we have stepped up to help in many ways. We added new relevant features in the U.S. like showing jobs that can be done remotely. Google Cloud has partnered with different states to help jobseekers: we assisted Rhode Island’s Virtual Career Center, a new platform that  connects thousands of jobseekers with jobs and employment services; worked with the State of Illinois to develop a 24/7 Virtual Intelligent Agent on the IDES website; developed a chatbot, in partnership with the New Jersey Office of Innovation to provide real-time answers to the 20 most popular unemployment questions. These are just some of the examples. 


We also transformed our free Grow with Google training to virtual formats and have already trained more than 1 million Americans on digital skills this year. The Google IT Support Professional Certificate—which takes beginner learners to entry-level jobs ready in under six months—has become the most popular certificate on Coursera during COVID-19.

Grow with Google digital skills training

Providing trusted information

Questions related to the pandemic are more searched than sports or music (and even elections) in every state. 

Top coronavirus related searches in the U.S. this month:

  1. Coronavirus symptoms

  2. Coronavirus update

  3. Coronavirus vaccine

Across the U.S. people are searching on Google to stay informed and adapt. In 47 states, the top coronavirus-related question during the last six months has been “How many cases of coronavirus in [my state].” Search interest for “online courses” reached an all-time high in April this year, as did searches for “unemployment,”compared to search trends over the last 15 years. 


During this time, we’ve also seen people seek out information to help them navigate their daily lives. For example, since the pandemic began, searches for “curbside pickup” have increased 13-fold compared to this time last year, while searches for “contact tracing” spiked 1,000 percent  in April and then reached an all-time high in May. 


In March, we launched Search Knowledge Panels so when people search for information related to COVID-19, they immediately see local guidance, information about symptoms, prevention and treatments. We’ve committed $250 million in Ad Grants to help government agencies provide critical information related to COVID-19. As of today we’ve served more than 100 million PSAs from local public health agencies, which have been seen by tens of millions of people across the U.S.


We also launched the Journalism Emergency Relief Fund to provide emergency funding for small and medium sized news organizations covering the pandemic. To date, we’ve distributed $9 million to U.S. newsrooms across all 50 states. 

Helping people make safe choices 

To help people make informed decisions about where to go, the COVID layer in Google Maps shows critical information about new cases in an area and how they’re trending. As of this month, our COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, which are used by public health agencies and researchers around the globe, have been downloaded more than 16 million times. 

In May, we partnered with Apple to launch the Exposure Notifications System (ENS) and made it available to public health authorities around the world in their fight against COVID-19. Designed specifically and carefully to protect users’ privacy while helping public health authorities and governments manage countries’ re-opening, today 13 states and U.S. territories have built apps based on this ENS technology.

In a short time, COVID-19 has changed how people live their lives. We’ll continue to update our products and roll out initiatives to help people and American businesses find trusted information, adapt and manage economic uncertainty.  

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Stay informed and get around safely with Google Maps

by Dane Glasgow on Oct.16, 2020, 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

People turn to Google Maps for accurate, fresh information about what’s going on in the world—especially so during the pandemic. Activities like picking up something from the store, going for a walk, or grabbing a bite to eat now require a significant amount of planning and preparation. At any given time, you may be thinking: “Does the place I’m headed to have enough room for social distancing?” or “What safety precautions are being taken at my destination?”


Today, as part of our Search On event, we’re announcing new improvements to arm you with the information you need to navigate your world safely and get things done.

Make informed decisions with new live busyness updates

The ability to see busyness information on Google Maps has been one of our most popular features since it launched back in 2016. During the pandemic, this information has transformed into an essential tool, helping people quickly understand how busy a place is expected to be so they can make better decisions about where to go and when. In fact, as people around the world adjusted to life during the pandemic, they used popular times and live busyness information more. We saw engagement with these features rise 50 percent between March and May as more people tapped, scrolled and compared data to find the best days and times to go places.   


We’ve been expanding live busyness information to millions of places around the world, and are on track to increase global coverage by five times compared to June 2020. This expansion includes more outdoor areas, like beaches and parks, and essential places, like grocery stores, gas stations, laundromats and pharmacies. Busyness information will surface in directions and right on the map—so you don’t even need to search for a specific place in order to see how busy it is. This will soon be available to Android, iOS and desktop users worldwide.


live_busyness

You’ll soon be able to see live busyness information without even searching for a place.


destination_busyness

See live busyness information for your destination when getting directions

A new way to source up-to-date business information

It’s hard to know how a business’ offerings have changed during the pandemic. To help people find the freshest business information possible, we’ve been using Duplex conversational technology to call businesses and verify their information on Maps and Search. Since April 2020, this information has helped make more than 3 million updates, including updated hours of operation, delivery and pickup options, and store inventory information for in-demand products such as face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant. To date, these updates have been viewed more than 20 billion times.


Important health and safety information about businesses is now front and center on Maps and Search. You can quickly know what safety precautions a business is taking, such as if they require customers to wear masks and make reservations, if there’s plexiglass onsite, or if their staff takes regular temperature checks. This information comes directly from businesses, and soon Google Maps users will also be able to contribute this useful information.

heath_and_safety

Health and safety information is now front and center in Google Maps

See helpful information right from Live View

Getting around your city looks different these days. The stakes are higher due to safety concerns, and it’s important to have all the information you need before deciding to visit a place. In the coming months, people using Android and iOS devices globally will be able to use Live View, a feature that uses AR to help you find your way, to learn more about a restaurant, store or business.

Say you’re walking around a new neighborhood, and one boutique in particular captures your attention. You’ll be able to use Live View to quickly learn if it’s open, how busy it is, its star rating, and health and safety information if available, 

live_view_place_info

Use Live View to quickly see helpful information about a business.

The pandemic has changed how we interact with the world. Getting around, shopping for essentials and finding things to do all require more thought and consideration, and Google Maps is here to help.

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Behind the scenes: popular times and live busyness information

by Matt D'Zmura on Oct.16, 2020, 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

If you’ve ever been in a rush to grab a quick bite, you may know the pain that comes along with finding out that the restaurant you chose is packed and there’s nowhere to sit. Or maybe you need to pick up just one item from the grocery store, only to find that the line is out the door—derailing your plans and causing you unnecessary stress. 


These problems were top of mind when Google Maps launched popular times and live busyness information—helpful features that let you see how busy a place tends to be on a given day and time or in a specific moment. This information has become a powerful tool during the pandemic, making it easier to social distance because you know in advance how crowded a place will be. Today, we’ll take a closer look at how we calculate busyness information, while keeping your data private and secure.

Popular times: making sense of historical busyness information

To calculate busyness insights, we analyze aggregated and anonymized Location History data from people who have opted to turn this setting on from their Google Account. This data is instrumental in calculating how busy a place typically is for every hour of the week. The busiest hour becomes our benchmark—and we then display busyness data for the rest of the week relative to that hour. 


For example, say there’s a new ice cream shop down the block known for its homemade waffle cones

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The Navajo Nation addresses its residents with Plus Codes

by Norbert Nez on Oct.13, 2020, 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

At the Navajo Nation Division of Community Development, we have a total IT staff of two. There are many challenges the Navajo Nation faces, and many of them are at the community level, and I work to find technical solutions to help solve some of these challenges. For example, we’re facing a potential undercount in this year’s Census due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so I’m helping to provide statistical information and making that information easy to access for members of the community, too. 

A few years back, I was attending Google’s Geo for Good Summit, checking out all the new geographic tools Google had developed. That’s where I learned about Plus Codes, and that’s when we started our collaboration. 

Around the world, several billion people either don’t have an address, or have one that doesn’t accurately identify the location of their home or business. That’s why Google created Plus Codes, which use latitude and longitude to produce a short digital address that’s easy to share. Google Maps already provides millions of directions each month to people using Plus Codes, and we’ve found them to be extremely useful for rural Navajo communities, where at least 50,000 properties don’t have an address.

The Navajo Nation has been using Plus Codes to establish locations of community resources like watering points, food distribution locations and free public Wi-Fi hotspots. The Bluff Area Mutual Aid, led by the Rural Utah Project, also used Plus Codes to identify where people in need were located and how best to deliver the needed food and supplies. The Bluff Area Mutual Aid has raised enough money to deliver more than 900 food boxes for relief efforts. 

I believe that once people see how useful Plus Codes can be in actual use, they will become inspired to use it in other, creative ways to improve their lives. People have started using Plus Codes for service delivery from the chapter to community members, package and postal delivery through partnerships with shipping companies, and in adapting it to establish location information for COVID-relief efforts. And when there's an emergency, people can use Plus Codes to accurately communicate their locations to first responders.

Technology can’t solve all our problems, but I hope that we can invest heavily in upgrading our infrastructure, including roads, electrical power and broadband Internet. This will help attract more businesses and economic activity, keeping our young people from moving away to find work. Our own talented Navajo people are heading these development efforts, and it’s a point of pride to say that we are working for a better future for our community.

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Ask a Techspert: How do satellite images work?

by Peter Schottenfels on Oct.06, 2020, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth, 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 flying, I am firmly a window seat person. (And I can’t wait to start flying again… or at least get out of my apartment.) Not because I’m annoyed by the beverage cart hitting my elbows (though I am), or because I like to blankly stare out at the endless sky (which I do), but because I enjoy looking down at the streets, buildings and skyline of my destination as we land. It’s thrilling to watch cars move, see skyscrapers cast shadows on the street or check out the reflection of the sun in a body of water. For most of human history, it was impossible to even imagine what Earth looked like from above, and only in the past century have we been able to capture it. 

Today, satellite imagery is one of the most popular features on Google Maps. Capturing the world from above is a huge undertaking, matching millions of images to precise locations. But how does satellite imagery actually work? How often are images updated? What are some of the biggest challenges to bringing satellite imagery to more than 1 billion users?

To answer these questions, I reached out to our satellite imagery techspert, Matt Manolides. Matt is Google’s Geo Data Strategist. He’s worked at Google for over 14 years and he gave me an aerial view (pun intended) of how satellite imagery works.

How do we accumulate the images used in Google Maps? Do we actually use satellites? 

The mosaic of satellite and aerial photographs you can see in Google Maps and Google Earth is sourced from many different providers, including state agencies, geological survey organizations and commercial imagery providers. These images are taken on different dates and under different lighting and weather conditions.

In fact, there’s an entire industry around doing aerial surveys. Companies cut holes in the bottom of planes, and cameras take pictures as they fly overhead. In many areas around the world, this is happening constantly. In parts of the world where there isn’t an established aerial survey market, we rely on satellites. With aerial surveys, we get very high-quality images that are sharp enough to create detailed maps. Satellites produce lower-quality imagery, but are still helpful because they provide global coverage. 

When do the images meet the map? 

“Google obtains commercially-available satellite imagery from a range of third parties, and our team stitches the images together to create a seamless map,” Matt tells me. This is a process called photogrammetry and, according to Matt, we’re increasingly able to automate our photogrammetry process using machine learning to help accurately place images and improve resolution. 

For aerial data, the images are delivered on hard disks and we upload them into Google Cloud. For satellite imagery, the data is uploaded directly from our providers to Google Cloud. The imagery is delivered in a raw format, meaning it’s not yet positioned on the ground and is separated into red, blue and green photos, as well as panchromatic images, which includes finer details. We then combine the jumble of images so they all line up and have an accurate placement in the real world, and generally look beautiful.  

Hard drives with satellite imagery in a room

Rooms full of hard drives, each one jam-packed with aerial images.

How often do you update satellite images? 

“We aim to update satellite imagery of the places that are changing the most,” Matt says. For instance, because big cities are always evolving, we try to update our satellite images every year. For medium-sized cities, we try to update images every two years, and it goes up to every three years for smaller cities. Overall our goal is to keep densely populated places refreshed on a regular basis and to keep up with a changing world, so we will refresh areas more frequently when we think there’s lots of building or road construction going on.

Why do we sometimes see mysterious objects on Maps? What are they? 

Matt explains that sometimes the way the images are collected can create optical illusions. One of the most common instances of this are “sunken ships,” which are actually regular, operating ships that might appear underwater due to the way the satellite imagery gets layered together. Other times, sunlight can reflect off something shiny, and it will look like a strange white object that some believe are haunted houses or other such spookiness.

A spooky "sunken ship" illusion in London.

A spooky "sunken ship" illusion in London. 

Because the satellite cameras take multiple pictures at the same time, but in different color spectrums, a fast-moving object, like a plane, can look strange, like several identical but differently-colored planes flying over each other. 

A "rainbow" plane illusion

As for Matt, his favorite part is finding public events that are happening when the images are captured. From hydroplane races to car shows, it’s fascinating to see events in the overhead imagery. 


“When I was a kid growing up in Seattle, I always loved the hydroplane races that would happen each summer. It was a thrill to realize that we captured one from the air back in 2010,” Matt says. “The imagery isn’t visible in Google Maps anymore, but you can still see it using Google Earth Pro’s Historic Imagery feature, which lets you browse our full catalog of imagery.”

Satellite image of a hydroplane race

A hydroplane race on Lake Sammamish, Washington, on June 10, 2010. 

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How we’re supporting climate action in European cities

by Rowan Barnett on Oct.02, 2020, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Climate action can have the biggest impact in cities, which are responsible for 70 percent of the world's CO₂ emissions. That’s why we committed to helping more than 500 cities reduce 1 gigaton of carbon emissions annually by 2030 as part of our ambitious plan for climate action. To help reach that goal, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, with grant support from Google.org, is funding six projects. The projects will use actionable data to test new strategies that can reduce emissions and improve air quality in cities across Europe. 

ICLEI is a global network of more than 1,750 local and regional governments committed to sustainable urban development. Last fall, we granted $4 million in funding to them to establish the ICLEI Action Fund and support nonprofits and academic institutions in Europe and Latin America that are leading data-driven climate action efforts. Here’s a look at the projects that have been funded and what we’ve learned so far. 

Projects selected for funding across Europe

 The Centre for Sustainable Energy plans to establish an open-source, city-wide energy dataset in Birmingham, England. The team will also develop analysis tools that can model decarbonisation options for buildings in the city, overlay and integrate public datasets, and aggregate granular socioeconomic data. 

With these tools, the Centre hopes to develop city-wide interventions and smaller community initiatives that will help the city reach its overall decarbonisation goals. “By combining emissions data for buildings, transport, and energy infrastructure with socioeconomic data, and distributing local community grants, we’ll be able to help residents deliver targeted carbon reduction projects, and support the City Council and Route to Zero Task Force to deliver their city-wide climate emergency ambitions,” said Rachel Coxcoon, Programme Director at the Centre for Sustainable Energy. 

In Hamburg, the CityScienceLab of the HafenCity University will develop a tool incorporating data from Google’s Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE), Hamburg’s urban data platform and other sources. With this tool, they plan to help the city identify areas that can be used as “urban testbeds” for prototyping energy innovations in the Altona, Norg and Bergedorf districts. The prototyping process will help visualise and simulate projects to better understand their projected impact on the city. 

Other Action Fund grantees and their projects include: 

  • Deutsche Umwelthilfe in Berlin: To help the city reach its air quality and carbon-free transport goals, they plan to analyze data about air quality, noise levels and traffic, and use EIE to advocate for data-driven changes to cycling and other transportation infrastructure.
  • Carbon Co-Op in Greater Manchester: Working with local partners, they'll develop multi-sector energy plans for the regions and pilot three citizen-led projects focused on sustainable mobility and energy-efficient buildings. A newly developed urban energy dashboard will help them track impact. 
  • Miljopunkt Amager in Copenhagen: Using Google Air View, traffic data and community-collected data, they’ll test new urban space designs that may improve air quality. 
  • Air Pays de la Loire in Nantes: Using real-time air quality datasets that account for traffic conditions, they will provide citizens and local authorities with tools to make decisions about transportation management and traffic regulation systems.

The latest insights from cities taking data-driven climate action 

Through these projects, we’ve seen how cities are thinking about data-backed sustainability planning and action. So far, we’ve seen trends that can be applied globally.  

First, starting small can lead to a big impact—especially when it comes to data. City-level data can point decision-makers in the right direction, while neighborhood or district data can create the necessary community buy-in for more specific programs or interventions. Second, actionable data can help citizens make informed day-to-day decisions and take action. After all, informed citizens are a critical piece of the puzzle. Last, we saw a huge interest in cities looking to improve air quality through more efficient and low-carbon transportation options. 

To have a meaningful impact on climate change, data-driven approaches must be scaled across the globe. That’s why Google.org provided ICLEI’s Global Secretariat with additional funding to develop case studies so they can share best practices that emerge from the Action Fund with cities around the world that are looking to implement similar data-driven climate interventions. 

 One of our goals at Google is to unlock climate ambitions with data, insights, and innovation to overcome today’s climate crisis. We’re excited to continue supporting leading organizations, such as ICLEI, and cities that share that goal. 

Image Credit: Google Earth image of Paris, France 2019, Aerodata International Surveys, Maxar Technologies, The GeoInformation Group | InterAtlas

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