Google is a Mapping Company

Google is a mapping company. For years I’ve used Google Earth in lieu of a physical globe in my world geography courses. If you have not experienced Google Earth download and install Google Earth (GE) after reading my post. Don’t download and install now because once you realize the shear genius of GE I will have lost your attention.

GE is a wonderful teaching tool for children 7 and older. GE is easy to use and is loaded with simple features, like a measuring tool and bookmarks, which can help parents teach basic geography to kids. GE is linked to Wikipedia; thousands of sites are referenced via Wikipedia. YouTube places are also linked indicating where people have posted videos of some event occuring at the location. Be advised: some videos are not educational and only informative in the sense of illustrating Darwinian processes at work among people. But, some videos are nice and informative. GE contains a wealth of links to outside sources such as the World Wildlife Foundation, National Geographic, and the United States Geological Survey.

Grabbing screenshots from Google Earth is a cinch and embedding JPEGS from Google Earth can improve posters and presentations. Using a keyboard or a mouse, 3D terrain can be simulated providing a sense of scale and landscape relief. I recommend visiting the Karakoram Mtns in northern Pakistan, my favorite mountain range. The world’s highest highway is found here.

GE also has a flight simulator embedded within. Using simple controls and basic physics, a user can pilot around any place in the world.

Now, Google recently revealed plans to map in 3D a number of cities using aerial photography. Nothing especially new about such efforts. Most large cities engage in aerial mapping missions every few years. As cities grow aerial photography helps city planners identify buildings, land use, help them plan for utility growth, estimate population density, estimate potential stormwater drainage issues, and in public safety efforts – all sorts of pursuits. Most states will fly aerial photography mapping missions every 5 to 10 years to help monitor landscape change. The federal government acting through the Department of Agriculture collects aerial photography across states dominated by agriculture. The USDA uses aerial photography information to assess crop type, acreage, productivity, and keeping farmers honest with regards to subsidies and set aside programs.

Kentucky has plans for collecting not only aerial photography statewide but also LiDAR statewide. LiDAR is an acronym for “Light Detection and Ranging.” Essentially, a plane equipped with a laser shoots the ground a million zillion times and the laser reflected back to the plane is sensed, allowing distance to be calculated. The result after post-processing are highly detailed terrain maps or maps of city structures, or landforms. The amount of data points is immense; LiDAR collected for a small watershed in Arkansas was in excess of 300GB.

Right now, Google Earth users can fly around the world with some interesting terrain but the cities are mostly flat unless someone has used SketchUp to add 3D buildings. Examine Washington, D.C. for a good example of 3D urban builds.

With Google’s new efforts to collect aerial photography of major cities people from around the world will be able to go on virtual field trips, or plan real trips. I’m sure Google will expand their Google Earth API to include such data for wild and crazy new apps.

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