Virtual reality world is very cool because every day you wake up and there is an unexpected news popping out from nowhere and that excites you a lot. Today’s great news has been the announcement by Google of the release of Google Earth in Virtual Reality!

It seems to be a project that has born 4 ago inside Google, by employees using the famous 20% of creative time that Big-G leaves to all its developers to create interesting side-projects (lots of great services of Google have born this way: Gmail is a great example of these). 4 years ago means 2012, the year that Oculus Kickstarter campaign has begun changing our future… so these smart guys envisioned Google Earth in virtual reality the very first moment they saw a VR headset! They kept the project secret till now, where they suddenly unveiled and released this little jewel.

Google Earth in VR lets you to explore the whole world in virtual reality. If in Google Earth for PC you zoom in using your mouse, hereĀ  you use the VR controllers: you see a little earth in front of you and you start zoom the location you want to visit. Once you’re close enough, you can move using your VR controllers: you point them in the direction towards you want to move and you’ll see you moving inside VR. You can walk, but the most awesome thing to do is fly above cities and look all the wonderful things, like if you were on an airplane exploring all the most remote corners of this world. The locomotion system they picked up is obviously non optimal for VR: if you don’t have VR-legs, this surely leads you to motion sickness. Google has partially solved this problem using one of the most known tricks for reducing motion sickness: FOV reduction. While you move, all the most external parts of your visuals become black, so FOV is highly reduced and this makes sickness sensation diminish (reason is that FOV is correlated with motion sickness). People having tried it have reported that the trick works, so that you don’t feel sick (even if I can imagine that people very sensitive to simulation sickness will suffer from it the same).

(Video by UploadVR)

You can move in this cool way, or you can pick some points of interest from a proposed list of interesting places, always using your VR controllers.

The objects you see in VR are for most part 3D reconstruction of environments, using satellitar images and depth/height informations (remember that Google Earth/Maps is 3D now in all most important cities). Some well known places, instead, have been completely remodeled in 3D (yikes! I imagine the cost of all this operation) and the results are really astonishing.

Florence Cathedral in virtual reality
Florence Cathedral in virtual reality… ah Italy, you’re very beautiful! Notice that this is one of those places that have been completely reconstructed in 3D (Image by UploadVR)

Google says that this is officially a Google project and not a demo (really? Gmail has been in beta for years and this is an official release ?!). They will improve it a lot in the next times.

I, like lots of other people, hope they’ll add some cool feature like social integration: Google VR with social could be really cool… we could go virtually on vacations with our friends in all places of the world! It will be like really being there… awesome. I think that Google Earth/Maps in VR can be huge… I can envision lots of possible different applications, like:

  • Virtual travels;
  • Virtual navigators (in the sense that I learn the path that I have to follow testing it before actually driving it in my car);
  • Virtual driving school in your city… why not?
  • Virtual architecture: envision how a new building can fit inside a certain place of the city;
  • Etc…

At moment, this cool projects works only with HTC Vive. When asked why, Google has answered this way

I think that this means that all navigation is made using virtual reality controllers and almost no-one has Oculus Touch (they will start shipping on December, 6th), so it would be useless to release it now for Oculus. It’s better to release Oculus porting later, maybe with a new marketing effort.

At moment, we Oculus users are all like this

Sad true story...
Sad true story… (Image by Damo3000 redditor)

Anyway, Google Earth VR is the kind of projects that make me proud of being part of this great VR hype. It has lots of super-positive reviews and it gave lots of excitement to all of us! Kudos to you, Google!

(Header image by UploadVR)