Google Earth 5.0

February 3rd, 2009

Latest version of Google Earth, 5.0 is now out. This is a massive ugrade to Google Earth, which takes the application forwards in lots of new ways. For sheer scope and range of new features easily the biggest update yet.

Headline features are Historic satellite images, 3D Ocean terrain, Google Mars!, and powerful new touring capability

Download the new version from the official download site here: Google Earth 5.0

A few observations:

  • Historical Imagery - For me the single most impressive and unexpected addition is the ability to see historic aerial and satellite imagery. Including stuff going back to the 1940s! Previously Google Earth only allowed the display of one image of any place taken at one particular time. Most other new features were predicted in one way or anther - this came out of the blue. Really excited about this. Must be costing Google a packet to acquire all this data.
  • Ocean - Displays 3d underwater terrain (bathymetry), with a neat wave effect for the ocean surface. Less excited by the possiblities of this than other people seem to be, but admittedly does look cool.
  • Mars - A complete 3D terrain model. Very impressive. Pretty much every conceivable layer provided - different types of imagery, space probe landing sites etc. The Mars rover tracks look ripe for time animation!
  • Touring - Provides the ability to record and play back tours. Especially like the fact recorded tours are stored as kml files. Makes it possible to share them, automatically generate them through scripts - e.g. as a black box recording from a flight simulator, and in future (hopefully) play them in the browser plugin.

Some User interface changes:

  • Time slider has some new features - zoom buttons which change the playback length between a minute, hour, day, week, month, year. Further options to set start and end times
  • Overview map - new location bottom left of screen, some options to change the size and zoom ratio.
  • The Ruler displays a compass heading in addition to distance.
  • Placemarks bounce when the mouse hovers over them.

Couple of niggles - might be due to my PC, internet connection or maybe just the number of people trying to use the application.

  • The new version took a very, very long time to install.
  • Imagery is being pulled in very slowly at times

Development Stuff

The KML changes are listed in the KML Reference. And a post on the devlopers blog here.

Some very tight control of touring is possible through the new kml extensions. Ability to set the satellite imagery date and sun position time in a lookAt or camera view. Hopefully this new provision for UI control will eventually be extended to things like toggling off individual 3d buildings in the layers.

On a side note, none of these new dev features have been rolled out in the Google Earth plugin yet. But a couple of the changes in GE 5 were effectively already in the browser version - the Javascript/CSS support in balloons, and the clickability of polygons and lines.

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Growth of Wal-Mart, Google Earth Animation

January 27th, 2009

Here’s a Google Earth time animation showing 3176 Walmart store openings in the USA, from 1962 to 2006. See how the business started out with a single retail location in Arkansas, then spread at an accelerating rate across different regions.

Video showing the animation running in Google Earth:

Grab the KML file for Google Earth here:

Walmart 1962-2006 (300kB)

  • Once it’s loaded, use the time control slider top of the main Google Earth window to play.
  • Because this is Google Earth, you can fly around and zoom in and out during the animation.

For anyone thinking this visualization looks vaguely familiar - hands-up, it’s not my idea, the animation is inspired by FlowingData’s very slick, slippy-map animation of the same data, released last year, here.

To replicate that I’ve used the same KML carpet bombing technique as the flight path animations I knocked together a while back - each time a placemark appears I rapidly cycle through a sequence of Icons of decreasing size, to provide some visual punch.

Note: The location data isn’t all that precise in this - I think it’s just based on zip code area locations, not street addresses. But the stores generally aren’t too far away from the placemarks - look for the massive grey buildings with a zillion cars parked out front.

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GE API Page and Polygon Editor

June 12th, 2008

I’ve added a new page (in the menu on the left) to index my GE browser Plug-in projects, with three more examples to go alongside the flight simulator game and bounce! animation.

Delving into the API…

  • A basic Polygon Editor. Something I plan to develop further. Use draggable pushpins to rotate, re-size and locate a single, regular polygon or circle anywhere on the globe, then export the result as a KML file. An info panel populates with values for circumference, area, radius and bearing in real time.

And a couple hooking into some of my pre-existing KML files:

  • Mouseover Flight Route Maps for three European low-cost airlines: Easyjet, Ryanair and Wizzair. The information in these is several months out of date so don’t rely on it being accurate.
  • A view based Hertszprung-Russell Diagram - a scatter plot of stars’ luminosity vs colour - for Sky mode (obviously). Which includes 3000 nearby stars from the Hipparcos catalogue. Built around an unusual KML hack, which I’ll write about another time.

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Google Earth Browser, Mini Flight Sim

June 4th, 2008

Screenshot from Google Earth Browser Plugin Flight Sim Game

This is a miniature, arcade-type flight simulator which runs inside the Google Earth browser plug-in. Based around a much modified version of the Google Milktruck(!) demo.

The plane hugs the terrain, and the gas pedal is permanently down. Just use Left and Right cursor keys control it.

Click the following link to play.   Enjoy!

Mini Flight Sim

Note, the Google Earth Plug-in currently works in these web browsers and operating systems:

  • Windows: IE 6.0+, IE 7.0+, Firefox 2.0x-3, Netscape 7.1+, Mozilla 1.4+, Flock 1.0+
  • Mac OS X (Intel and PowerPC): Safari

Further Details:

  • The airplane starts by buzzing the Googleplex.
  • 3D buildings are on.
  • Type any address in the location box to teleport elsewhere.
  • The small window size is an attempt to keep on top of new terrain loading in.
  • The plane is my own lightweight (60kB) 3D model of a Hawk training jet as used by the UK’s RAF air display team the Red Arrows.
  • If you fly off the top of a mountain the plane might disappear briefly. This is a GE/model altitude display limitation - kicks in at a couple of hundred metres above ground.
  • It sucks up internet bandwidth like there’s no tomorrow, so don’t forget too close the page after you’ve finished with it!

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Google Earth in Google Earth in a Browser

June 2nd, 2008

Animated Google Earth in Google Earth in a BrowserSince the new Google Earth browser plugin was released last week, I’ve been trying hard to resist the temptation to simply throw giant KML files at it :) . Instead focusing on stuff which wouldn’t be practical using regular Google Earth.

Anyway, I’ve cobbled together a simple interactive animation using the API.  Similar idea to my earlier (rather lame) bouncing Google Earth 3D model.

OK, it’s not very sophisticated, but the thing to note is this isn’t the Plugin running a KML time animation.  Instead, its a fully scripted animation, moving a standard  SketchUp model in real time. This means we can do several things which just aren’t possible in Google Earth:

  • Have options to change every parameter to do with the location and physics (Just location and drop height implemented at the moment). 
  • Include a range of camera settings to view the animation from different frames of reference. Notably a tracking camera, and some from the point of view of the moving 3D model  - very cool how well these work.

It’s a pretty flabby/messy piece of scripting at the moment,  but if anyone does want re-use any part of the script please feel free.

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