Mapping mayhem: Around the world with Google Earth and Co.
By Christiane Link Dec 18, 2005, 7:38 GMT
Rome as seen via Google Earth. (Image: Google)
Hamburg - Experienced travellers know that holiday catalogues sometimes stretch the truth a bit. Want to find out whether 'ocean view' really means beachfront, or whether there is a major highway running in front of a country cabin?
Programs like Google Earth allow you to take a look yourself - without actually being there. Yet this is only one of the many possibilities offered by the growing cadre of satellite and mapping programs.
Google Earth uses satellite photos and proprietary images taken from planes to show the world from a bird's eye view. 'The world' can be turned, enlarged, or reduced any way the user desires. The United States is covered in particular detail by Google Earth, primarily because image and supplementary information is especially abundant for that country.
'Map material is still quite thin outside the U.S.,' says Peter Schueler from the Hanover computer magazine 'c't'. The technology is nevertheless helpful for other places like Europe.
A website called Google Sightseeing recaps particularly interesting photos from Google Earth. And various add-on programs are available to make for an even more interesting trip around the world.
Programs like Google Earth and its competitor World Wind from NASA offer a preview of how navigation and information systems of the future will look and function: Anyone curious about the best car route from JFK airport in New York to Times Square in Manhattan can use Google Earth to simulate driving the stretch.
At the same time, the software can help look for the next pizzeria or display the crime rate of the region where the virtual traveller is currently 'located.' Various add-ons offered by Google, like Google Maps and Google Local, work to supplement Google Earth and similar applications.
Europe lags somewhat behind in this area. Not all regions of Germany are captured in high-resolution bird's eye view images, for example. 'But we're working on it,' says Stefan Keuchel, spokesman for Google Germany in Hamburg.
The palette of complementary data is also growing. Yet the competition isn't sleeping either: Microsoft launched its MSN Virtual Earth service this past June. It offers satellite images and maps. Information can also be sent by email. No additional software is needed to use the service; the entire trip can be conducted over the browser.
Yahoo! is also offering maps: Typing in a famous location like 'Rathausmarkt, Hamburg' into the standard search window for Yahoo! Germany pulls up a map selection of the Hamburg inner city above the regular search results. A click on the map pulls up additional information like gas stations, bus stops, tourist information, and much more.
Almost every third search request involves local information, says Yahoo! director Volker Glaeser. The map options reflect users' thirst for information about their surroundings, he claims: 'Users want to know where the next gas station is, and where they can find a supermarket near them.'
This is why companies are also working on mobile solutions, although they are still a long way from becoming everyday applications.
Google, for example, has already made the first step toward offering map applications for cell phones through a beta mobile version of its local map searches.
Peter Schueler from 'c't' believes that it will be three or four years before satellite or map applications of this kind make their way into cars. One requirement for all this is a broadband link to the Internet from the car.
'But this isn't all just a science fiction dream any more,' Schueler says. Even so, the classic navigation system is still the safer bet for under the Christmas tree this year.© 2005 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur