Orwell would be turning in his grave.
A “live” Google Earth could be on the way thanks to a breakthrough in global imaging technologies, completely changing the way we see the world through Google's 3D atlas.
Google Earth has, previously, been known for moments of uncovering (faux) gory crime scenes to virtually revisiting places you've travelled to in the past. It's a remarkable tool and part of its appeal is that it's updated once every few years; regularly enough to keep it relevant, but not so regularly that it becomes invasive.
Now though , developers have created a 4K Ultra HD camera with the capacity to stream colour video to Earth from over 300 miles up. The technology is owned by UK company Earth-i, and came to fruition via the firm's VividX2 satellite. The camera can take multi-angle images to replicate a 3D model and boasts a “video staring” mode. As the satellite glides overhead at a rate of over four miles per second, the camera constantly reorients to focus on a specific location. The result is a two-minute, 50fps video of the location at hand, with each pixel representing 60cm (24in). The camera's capacity means that, if Google so wished to, Google Earth could have, for the first time, the capacity to launch a “live” version of its site.
If this sounds more than a little invasive, then it's worth noting that the system could be used for things other than charting your naked sunbathing.
Worldwide transport logistics could be markedly improved, with runways and ports alike benefitting some (literal) oversight. We could finally put an end to the phenomenon of irretrievable plane wreckages, giving families closure and aviation technicians insight into just what went wrong.
Speaking to TechRadar, CEO of Earth-i Richard Blain explained the logic behind the endeavour: “Earth Observation data is becoming a major driver in the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution – the era of Big Data analytics.”
“Location data is the foundation on which many big data solutions are being built to drive better decision-making and policy thinking the world over.”
It should be made clear that Google hasn't yet collaborated with Earth-i, although the company's technology certainly makes “live” Google Earth a viable possibility.
“From a technical point of view that is entirely possible,” notes Blain, going on to add that it wouldn't be a simple – nor cheap – endeavour. “A low Earth orbit optical satellite cannot be stationary over one location, so to do persistent monitoring globally over a particular area, you'd need close to 1,000 satellites,” in addition to many more drones and High-Altitude Pseudo-Satellites (HAPS) “to add the depth of data needed to achieve a constant “live” picture of Earth”.
There you have it. It won't be easy on the a) wallets; b) time schedules; or c) conscience, but we just came one significant step closer to having a “live Google Earth”. Now might just be the time to start rethinking that naked sunbathing after all.