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Only clear skies on Google Maps and Earth (google-latlong.blogspot.de)
203 points by albertzeyer 1629 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

I'm checking out the new Google Maps beta, and if you zoom all the way out in Earth mode, it actually puts the clouds back-in -- based on real-time satellite data.

Pretty cool. Now if there were just a time slider...

But it's also very cool that Google Maps no longers looks like a big patchwork of images from totally different satellites and sources. It actually looks seamless now, no matter where you're zooming. That's pretty incredible. EDIT: the more I've been playing with it, the cooler it is. You can actually get a sense of how the colors of houses, roads, lawns, fields, etc. merge as you gradually zoom out, seamlessly. I've never seen anything like this -- wow.

I'm just waiting for performance to finish improving. It is better than it used to be (used to take 20-30 seconds to zoom on a modern computer), but still not great.

I've had quite a few crashes with the beta, and a number of features are now missing (Particularly, multiple stop directions). :(

Other problems I've noticed with the new google maps:

(1) performance really sucks on linux/firefox

(2) text renders incorrectly on linux/firefox to the point where much of it is barely readable

(3) they've futzed around with the UI in an apparent attempt to get rid of the "layers" concept, but this has negative effects (in particular this makes "transit mode", a temporary mode that turns off as soon you do anything else; in the old maps it's a setting that persists), and in general seems more confusing than the old way

One hopes they'll fix these problems before making the new maps the default, but ... the signs so far aren't very promising (the browser probs were around even in the old "webgl maps")...

>multiple stop directions

Every time I fire up a private browsing session to do a multiple stop route I am a bit amazed that they released it as beta with that feature missing. Obviously we're in a minority though.

A time slider used to be present in Google Earth software an year back. Don't know about it now though.

Hehe, even the middle of the Indian Ocean is better: https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Port-aux-Fran%C3%A7ais,+Terre...

it was even updated this year.

Cool, I'll take the pink shack.

:(, but there are places with worse imagery https://maps.google.com/?ll=65.14846,-13.690295&spn=0.015042...

crap, copied a wrong link, i meant this https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Dilijan,+Tavush,+Armenia&hl=e...

Now I'm imagining that all the houses and people in the east end of town are blurry and have strange colors :)

'Oh la-dee-dar; you're from the fancy part of town with less blur!' Clearly the sign of a division of class.

But you live in a weird country, where nobody lives. Surely you'll see more just by looking outside the window?

don't miss http://www.mapbox.com/blog/cloudless-atlas-with-landsat/ as well

Thanks to Landsat 8 new data also no longer suffers from Landsat 7's defunct SLC

There's also this series of month-by-month cloudless composite maps from NASA: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/BlueMarble/

Neat to see things like icecaps expanding and retreating.

Landsat 7 was launched in 1999. Had the Scan Line Corrector failure [1] in 2003 and has been taking striped images since then.

Landsat 8 is the recent addition launched in February 2013. Here you can see sample images from the satellite [2] and a side-by-side comparison to Landsat 7 [3].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landsat_7#Scan_Line_Corrector_f...

[2] http://landsat.usgs.gov/LDCM_Image_Examples.php

[3] http://landsat.usgs.gov/LDCM_Underfly_with_Landsat_7.php

Google has contributed numerous great things to the Internet / Web / computing technology of the last 15 years, but among all of that, Google Maps might just be my favorite. It's a great product and they keep improving it / investing into it, and I'm not aware that it generates much revenue (it seems to be the grocery store version of milk). Most companies slack big time once they're out in front, Google doesn't seem to be doing that (granted they're being chased by a lot of good competition).

Completely agree. Aside from the practical, everyday application of maps, being able to jump into streetview and see the house I grew up in, zoom out and jump to the other side of the planet and jump back into streetview to see the house I lived in whilst living in New Zealand is almost magical.

They do sell API access as far as I know.

Oh my god! I didn't know that the the united states is literally crisscrossed by roads in a relatively square grid fashion, as in [1]. This kind of detail was invisible in the previous version. Here is a frightening image of China [2]. Each of these patches is a town!

This update of the maps is amazing!

[1]https://maps.google.com/?ll=47.115467,-97.306595&spn=0.29298... [2]https://maps.google.com/?ll=38.002656,115.434723&spn=0.67848...

The road network is somewhat a result of the land survey that was used:


I've messed around with building 'road pressure' maps using the Tiger data from the census, in states like Michigan (at least in the lower peninsula), there is very little land that is not within about 1/2 mile of a public road.

A lot of the land in the western U.S. was given out by the government in square plots to anyone willing to settle there and plat some crops/trees. I believe this was under the homestead acts.

It's cool to see these images improve, but they just got this idea from MapBox, no? Just like they got the idea to move on vector and 3D from Apple. Is invention at Google Maps dead, and now we just watch as they ape their competitors to stay ahead?

Reactivity is to be expected from the entrenched player, but aping competitors alone won't keep Google relevant forever.

You're so absolutely and completely wrong that you're probably trolling, but:

Google implemented vector maps on Android long before Apple introduced their own maps (i.e. ~years). Likewise, 3D buildings have been available through Earth for years, and rendering them in Maps was an obvious next step. Ultimately, both Apple and Google launched 3D at right around the same time.

Last, as a sibling poster pointed out, if you think all of this was started in reaction to MapBox's work (earliest public mention I found was April 1st) and completed less than 3 months later, then that's just fucking admirable execution right there. But alas, that probably wasn't copied either.

Now that you say it, you're totally right about the vector maps thing.

I don't think it's impossible cloudless aerials were inspired by MapBox though... I think you and your sibling overestimate how hard it is to chop up and process imagery with a cluster of computers.

The new base map imagery was preceded by the Timelapse release last month, which used basically the same techniques on historical data. See: <http://world.time.com/timelapse/> and <http://earthengine.google.org/>. It ought to be pretty clear that both of these have been in the works for a long time.

If you seriously believe that _any_ mapping provider (including Microsoft, Nokia, or Google) hasn't been actively removing clouds from their imagery for a very, very long time, then you haven't been paying attention. No one needed MapBox to give them the idea of removing the giant patches of white obscuring everything in view.

In any case, your willingness to comment on a subject that you obviously know little about -- and then extrapolate your wrongness into a statement about the industry -- is impressive. Every sentence of your original post is wrong.

Well, I can definitely understand why you would make your remarks anonymously. I still don't think I'm uninformed to suggest this is not a coincidence, despite you berating me.

I was chatting with my colleague at work today, who actually stood up our landsat servers and does all of our tiling work, and he thinks that the pixel-averaging technique to de-cloud the images was an innovation that was pretty unique to MapBox. According to this article, they noticed a guy doing it in February 2013, and hired him right away to do it for them: http://www.wired.com/design/2013/05/a-cloudless-atlas/.

MapBox got to market with it in just a few months, and it's a particularly absurd argument to say this was too hard for Google's hundreds of maps engineers to implement. I heard at the State of the Map conference that it was just a few guys working on it at MapBox. Given Google already has the imagery, and the processing pipeline, I think adopting this declouding technique was actually a piece of cake.

Also, while Google has been removing clouds from their images for a long time, I think their technique has been to pick the best of many images. Their imagery used to have many more clouds in it, until all of a sudden.

The language and examples in the blog post above seems to have taken a lot of inspiration from posts by MapBox below. Regardless of whether or Google was working on it in advance or not - it's a feature I imagine you can't afford but not copy. Giving some attribution to the concept or at least a shout out to MapBox for pulling this off seems at least warranted.

http://www.mapbox.com/blog/cloudless-atlas-with-landsat/ http://www.mapbox.com/blog/huge-mapbox-satellite-update/

MapBox announcement seems to be not more than a couple of months old. If you think that someone can take inspiration, get data, process, QA test and launch such a feature in such a short duration, you should be impressed anyway.

Google Earth had 3D for a long time. Vector maps is again a huge undertaking and takes time to get right. Some companies didn't take their time, some did.

I have no idea how to sort by date in Flickr' idiotic new design but Charlie Loyd (vruba) has been posting images about the project for >8 months, probably talking about it even longer.

But they didn't make Google Earth. They bought it from a small company that was partially funded by the CIA.

So was the case with Apple, if my sibling is correct. I am just trying to say is that there is plenty, like a lot lot, of innovation in Google Maps - from devices that make it's own mapping data to using WebGL to render it in 3D in browser. To claim otherwise, with incredibly weak argument as in the original comments, is either lazy or dishonest.

I don't think you can credit Apple for the technology to make 3D photography, it has been a very well established technique for quite some time. Apple just happend to buy a company that did exactly this.

Probably. The main guys who created Google Maps are long gone.

It's pretty funny how far Google will go to avoid talking about the weather. They even put barometers in all their phones but aren't building a weather network or buying any weather startups (like mine)! What gives? They algorithmically remove weather, create an unused network of 50,000,000 barometers, gah!

Perhaps because Google Weather[1] will actually control the weather. A Google Pumping station every half kilometer or so, they are going to use the barometers in Android phones to give feedback on their actions. So if you need sunny weather the pumping stations will pull air from outside the area in and heat it up, if you want it to rain they will create a low pressure zone by pumping air out to a different zone. They need all the barometers to control which pumping stations are on and how much air they pump.

[1] This is entirely fictitious of course, but having worked there I could easily imagine just this description on the 'ideas' page.

There is prior art on this in Rochester, NY... we've known about the weather control device for some time:


Check out Rumor #9...

"Under Dr. Al Simone, the weather machine was used nearly flawlessly, as tour days always meant good weather, and the day after always rained."

cheap barometers are pretty terrible for absolute readings, I am not sure you could get any useful (for weather observation) data from them in a reasonable way that would be better than from classic stations.

Here's a weird case: https://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ll=43.047565,-123.758926&...

Zoom in one and out one. The patchwork brown flops in some of the grid.

Is that logging, maybe? It looks like the more zoomed out was actually a picture taken later, as the areas that were cleared in the closer zoom become brownish-green, and there's all new areas that are all brown that were before all green.

They look awesome! The best part of it is that it seems like most of the pictures at different levels seem to be taken within a short time of each other, if not nearly simultaneous.

The clouds have gone, but the now defunct and abandoned military complex near my hometown in Ede, The Netherlands is still rendered 'classified': https://maps.google.com/maps?q=52.067359,5.699562&num=1&t=h&... Which is weird, because even Area 51 is completely visible in high-res.

I half-expected the Street View to be classified as well:


There is a fair amount of artificial cloud covering residential buildings in Singapore, plus some commercial, public and military sites. Some areas such as a diplomatic district might be understandable, though others like the odd HDB block less so. Having lived across the street from one HDB block now obscured by artificial clouds, I'm wondering who might live there that its a priority to block an aerial view.

I've found myself recently wishing for a "globe" mode, akin to what's available in Google Earth, to better see some large-scale scale and distance interests that have come up for me.

You mean you want a Google Earth-like 3D view in the web-based Google Maps? If so, you're in luck: http://maps.google.com/help/maps/helloworld/desktop/preview/


In chrome when you select 'Earth' view, it gets you to install a plugin, but then it's all there.

That's the old Google Maps. In the new version no plugin is required because it uses WebGL, and Earth mode replaces satellite mode entirely.

It's already in the new Google Maps, if you've requested a beta preview.

Oh, ok. Thanks!

Wow. Google maps is literally beautiful now. I just spent several minutes zooming in and out, just marveling at the detail.

I've recently spent half an hour in Google Earth after turning on the ‘photorealistic atmospheric rendering’ feature + time slider. Makes for some landscapes…

(Update: Should've checked prior to posting… Photorealistic rendering is on by default in Maps with Earth plug-in, despite still being called experimental in Earth settings.)

A question for anybody that may work on the Earth project. Is Google actively trying to fill in past pictures, or only working forward? One of my favorite features was to do the time slide backwards on towns I lived in. Some go back to the 80's and others only a few years.

I wonder if the cloud removal was in response to Mapbox's recent announcements. It seems like an obvious improvement either way. I remember the first Mapquest product, and now we have Google Earth in high resolution glory. What will the next 10 years bring us?

Not sure why but not all clouds have disappeared. It could be Africa. I also see images that are stitched from different times of the year as you can see the difference in vegetation.


Maybe the data isn't rolling out to everyone simultaneously?

Here's what I see--no clouds at any zoom level: http://i.imgur.com/M6PuwgI.jpg

Can't wait for the clear sky on streetview.

At least my home town (Tampere, Finland, the home of Nokia) is so cloudy that the image data is useless. Misleading headline.

Hometown hasnt chnaged at all

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