Google Maps launched almost 12 years ago, and its latest update, released this week, adds a bunch of features including support for the Oculus Rift virtual headset.
Now Oculus users can pan and tilt their perspectives 360 degrees around the world in full virtual reality, whether they’re "on the ground” in Madagascar or staring down at Australia from outer space. It’s the closest that most of us will ever get to leaving the planet. This VR support is joined by three new additions to Google Earth’s capabilities. The first one, called Voyager, turns Google Earth into the interface for navigating media-rich “tours” of significant locations around the planet. Google specifically recommends checking out BBC Earth’s tour “Natural Treasures,” then getting the latest from renowned anthropologist Jane Goodall at Gombe National Park in Tanzania. And “Girl Muppets Around the World” uses Sesame Street characters to explore the world’s cultures.
Google Earth will also get an “I’m feeling lucky” button for users who want to serendipitously browse the planet. Borrowing from the company’s famous web search button (which takes users immediately to the highest-ranked page from their search instead of displaying the search results), Google Earth’s “I’m feeling lucky” button requires no input at all — just click it to be immediately whisked away to an interesting or beautiful place. If you want to learn more about what you’re seeing, you only need click on the associated “Knowledge Card” that will break down the facts about where you are.
Lastly, Google introduced a feature called “Postcards” to encourage people to share the pretty sights they might stumble across in their explorations of the company’s stitched-together aerial and satellite photography. Designate a recipient for your snapshot, and they’ll receive the image along with a link to immediately jump to the location in Google Earth.
This update seems to be about two things: showcasing high-quality Google Earth imagery and making its interface more explorable. Google's so committed to demonstrating that it’s building this world-sized map with the best possible pictures that it produced this eight-minute video about it.