Maps have come a long way in recent years, thanks in part to efforts at places like Google and Microsoft as well as the ready availability of high resolution commercial satellite imagery from companies like GeoEye and DigitalGlobe. Combine this with on-the-ground photography and the result is an amazing ability to visualize our planet in ever increasing detail.
Google has recently taken the popular ‘Street View’ functionality into the underwater realm, offering 360° panoramas of reef locations in Australia, Hawaii and the Philippines. See examples of this imagery at maps.google.com/ocean. With a viewpoint normally reserved for sea creatures and those fortunate enough to scuba dive in such locations, this imagery now provides a window into the natural wonders of the underwater realm for anyone with access to Google Maps.
The underwater imagery for this project is being acquired in a partnership between Google and the Catlin Seaview Survey, who are using an innovative underwater panoramic camera to capture these unique images. The Catlin Seaview Survey is acquiring photographic records of reef and other marine locations around the world, providing a permanent snapshot of environmental and habitat conditions at the time the photos were recorded. Thus, the imagery you see isn’t just remarkable to look at, but it also serves a valuable scientific purpose.
Underwater locations haven’t been the only stops along the way for Google’s Street View technology. As part of the Google World Wonders Project, other locations include world heritage sites around the globe, such as Stonehenge, Yosemite National Park and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, to name a few. The Street View technology offers an interactive 360° panorama that allows users take a virtual stroll through each location as if they were there.
As imagery such as this becomes more commonplace, and accessing satellite views of our neighborhood streets grows routine, don’t let the ease of these applications fool you. There is an amazing amount of technology behind acquiring this imagery and creating these maps. There are the satellites and cameras used to acquire the data, the algorithms used to assemble the images into seamless mosaics, the web software used to deliver the imagery to the user, and the people and companies who put it all together. It’s a complex process with many years of research needed to make it a reality. It will be exciting to see what comes next.