Digital maps on smartphones are brilliantly useful tools, but what sort of information do they gather about us – and how do they shape the way we look at the world?
Over the last few years, at the kinds of conferences where the world’s technological elite gathers to mainline caffeine and determine the course of history, Google has entertained the crowds with a contraption it calls Liquid Galaxy. It consists of eight large LCD screens, turned on their ends and arranged in a circle, with a joystick at the centre. The screens display vivid satellite imagery from Google Earth, and the joystick permits three-dimensional “flight”, so that stepping inside Liquid Galaxy feels like boarding your own personal UFO, in which you can zoom from the darkness of space down to the ocean’s surface, cruising low over deserts, or inspecting the tops of skyscrapers. (The illusion of real movement is powerful; your legs may tremble.) You can swoop down to street-level in Cape Town, spot ships in the Mekong river, or lose yourself in the whiteness of Antarctica.
But you don’t, of course. What you do - or what I did, anyway, but watch anyone using Google Earth for the first time, and you’ll see they do the equivalent - is to hurtle across continents to the semi-detached house on the outskirts of York where you grew up, to peer down at a street you know well. In an era of previously unimagined opportunities for exploring the far-off and strange, we want mainly to stare at ourselves.
It is a testament to the rate of change in the world of mapping, though, that Liquid Galaxy is now essentially old hat. Google has much, much bigger plans. In June it revealed that it had already started using planes - “military-grade spy planes”, the New York senator Charles Schumer claimed - to provide more detailed 3D imagery of the world’s big cities. It also unveiled the Street View Trekker, a bulky backpack with several 15-megapixel cameras protruding on a stalk, so that operatives can capture “offroad” imagery from hiking trails, narrow alleyways or the forest floor. Almost every month, new kinds of data are incorporated into Google Maps: in June, it was 2,000 miles of British canal towpaths, complete with bridges and locks; it was bike lanes. And for the first time, Google’s dominance of digital mapping faces a credible threat: Apple has announced that it will no longer include Google Maps on iPhones or iPads, replacing it with an alternative that, an Apple source told the tech blog All Things D, “will blow your head off”.
“I honestly think we’re seeing a more profound change, for mapmaking, than the switch from manuscript to print in the Renaissance,” says the University of London cartographic historian Jerry Brotton. “That was huge. But this is bigger.” The transition to print gave far more people access to maps. The transition to ubiquitous digital mapping accelerates and extends that development - but it is also transforming the roles that maps play in our lives.
Two possible pyramid complexes might have been found in Egypt, according to a Google Earth satellite imagery survey.
Located about 90 miles apart, the sites contain unusual grouping of mounds with intriguing features and orientations, said satellite archaeology researcher Angela Micol of Maiden, N.C.
One site in Upper Egypt, just 12 miles from the city of Abu Sidhum along the Nile, features four mounds each with a larger, triangular-shaped plateau.
The two larger mounds at this site are approximately 250 feet in width, with two smaller mounds approximately 100 feet in width.
NEWS: Egyptian Pyramids Found With NASA Satellite
The site complex is arranged in a very clear formation with the large mound extending a width of approximately 620 feet — almost three times the size of the Great Pyramid.
“Upon closer examination of the formation, this mound appears to have a very flat top and a curiously symmetrical triangular shape that has been heavily eroded with time,” Micol wrote in her website Google Earth Anomalies.
Intriguingly, when zooming in on the top of the triangular formation, two circular, 20-foot-wide features appear almost in the very center of the triangle.
The Iranian government said it will sue Google after the Internet company removed the name of the Persian Gulf from its mapping service.
The body of water between Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar was left nameless after the search giant removed the tag from Google Maps.
It is not clear why Google decided to remove the name, widely referred to as the Persian Gulf, or if it was caused by a bug in the system. A Google spokesperson declined to comment.
It does not explain why Google Earth keeps the name tag in place.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast warned Google could face “serious damages” if it did not return the water’s name, reports the Associated Press.
Iran is culturally sensitive about the name of the Persian Gulf, which has stirred tensions between Iranians and Arabs for years. The name has been disputed since the 1960s. Some Arab states call the stretch of water the Arabian Gulf.
After months of consultations with Israeli security officials, Google has launched its popular Street View service in the country’s three largest cities.
The new Street View provides images of ordinary life, contested areas and religious sites in the Holy Land. Due to security issues, areas around several sensitive sites, such as the military headquarters in Tel Aviv and the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, are blurred out.
Google Street View is available in more than 30 countries. It was held up in Israel by concerns that images of its streets could be used by terrorists. The Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza, for instance, has boasted that it used Google Earth, which gives birds-eye views and some street-level pictures of sites around the world, to aim rockets at Israel.
Last August, after a panel of government ministers met for six months to draft security guidelines, Israel announced it had reached an agreement with Google.
The service was quietly launched late last week and officially unveiled Sunday. The images are obtained by specialized cameras mounted on vehicles.
Israel is the first Middle Eastern nation to display its cities and streets online. Iraq’s National Museum is also available on Street View.