Google Earth VR

There are so many amazing places that one would like to visit during one’s lifetime. With a bit of luck and resources, one may be able to travel to a few of them. However, to travel to all of them would be impossible… or would it?

With Google Earth VR this could be possible.

The industry of Virtual Reality (VR) is growing at a fast pace. Its many different applications are not only recreational but may also be educational and be more than just a distraction. The Google Earth VR application allows the user to strap on a VR headset and start exploring all the wonders of the world from the comfort of one’s room.

Why they are engaging?

During the rough times of COVID-19, the possibilities of travelling have been severely limited. With the use of VR technology, the world is opened up again without the risk of transmitting the virus. Google Earth VR uses the 3D model of Google Earth, which has mapped 98% of the World. However, it is not just Google Earth ported to VR, it is a completely new experience. All the interactions have been redesigned and the VR application allows flight as the mode of travel, both at different locations but also in-between them.

Flying over New York in Google Earth VR.

This allows a very engaging experience for the user. The application is fast-paced and allows for many different amazing sights in just a couple of minutes. But it is not only that the user gets to tick off locations from their bucket lists at a pace not possible without this technology. While travelling in VR, the user also gets to experience the location in a brand new way, from many different perspectives which would not be possible if physically present.

With the application, one can fly over any city and experience them in impressive VR, stand at the highest mountain peaks of the world and appreciate the view in all directions, walk along streets in remote destinations you never thought you would get to visit, and much more.

What features are well done?

The Google Earth VR application is impressive in many ways. The sheer scale of the project is unimaginable, as Google Earth covers almost all parts of the world on a real-life scale. The controls and the straightforwardness of the application allow the user to effortlessly explore the world in an immersive way as if one was there in person.

What features can be improved and how?

However, the features of Google Earth VR are not all perfect. Due to the scale of the project, Google has been required to do a lot of optimization for the experience to be enjoyable. The 3D models are procured from combining enormous amounts of 2D images and layering everything onto 3D space. As a consequence of this, the detailing is not very accurate and sometimes certain graphics appear as blocky smudges of colours.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris with lacking details.

Improving this while still maintaining the scale of the project is hard. For the user, going to ground level (which activates Google Street View’s POV) results in much more details than the approximations in the bird’s view. As for what Google could do, this seems to be a project that does not get that much care anymore. However, with the use of Artificial Intelligence, Google could aim to do some photogrammetry repairs of textures, for example by combining the detailed Street Views with the textures in the Google Earth view.

To summarize, Google Earth VR allows the user to travel to incredible places across the world. At its current state, it may not be detailed enough in order to replace real traveling. It does however offer an immersive sandbox experience with new sights to explore anytime.

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