New Google Earth to see World

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Google is unleashing a new version of Google Earth, version 5.2. It’s the biggest update since Earth 5.0 added the oceans and Mars in February of 2009–and while it’s not that big, it’s got one major cool new feature and one modest-but-useful one. Google gave me a sneak peek of the new version last week.

The major cool new feature is aimed at folks who like to go adventuring and take a GPS navigation handheld along. If you tote a GPS unit such as the ones from Garmin and Magellan to track a hike, bike ride, sailing trip, or any other excursion, you can shift the data to Google Earth once you’re home. In the past, doing so engaged creating thousands of points of geographic information, but the new version of the software can create simpler plots of where you were at any given point in time. And it lets you view this data as birds-eye animations that track where you went, recreated with Earth’s wealth of geographic photography and 3D imagery. You can also share the reconstructions with other Google Earth users or publish them using the embeddable version of Earth.

For now, the feature only works with data captured by standalone GPS units supported by Google Earth–it’s compatible with hundreds of models–but the idea of it tying into Google smartphone apps like Latitude and the mobile version of Google Earth itself is intriguing.

You can dress up your reconstructions by importing a vehicle model such as a bike or boat from Google’s 3D Warehouse, but this requires massaging a text file by hand, and therefore isn’t for Google Earth newbies. It would be neat if a future version of Earth made it a point-and-click process.


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