Recently, Google Maps has hit the news for its part in enabling the Pokemon franchise to evolve into the chart topping game Pokemon GO. However, for most of us Google Maps is like that pesky legendary pokemon, Mewtwo, that we’ve all heard about but never actually managed to catch. Never fear, thefullapple is here to fill your pokedex with some interesting Google Maps facts.
1. Pokemon are taking over our world: Based upon the hugely successful Gameboy and Nintendo franchise, Pokemon GO is an augmented reality game released this month in the US, Australia and Japan by Niantec, a spin off company from Google. The game identifies standout features in your surroundings using Google Maps and overlays the pokemon world map on top, bringing the game to life in the real world with you as the main character. No pressure! This game is so addictive, it’s lead to some really funny instances of searching for pokemon in inappropriate places. Our favorite example though is this unenthusiastic father-to-be who was playing whilst his wife was giving birth… this picture says it all. For heaven’s sake it’s only a pidgey!
2. A bunch of wild satellites appeared: Contrary to what you might expect, Google does not actually own all the satellites it uses. In 2004, Google acquired the satellite imaging company Keyhole which lead to a whole host of third party satellites opening up and selling images. Now, Google does not own most of the satellites it uses, just pays for their output. Different satellites look at different parts of the world imaging large, overlapping areas.
3. Google Maps could cause war: In 2010, Nicaragua accidentally invaded Costa Rica because of a mistake in Google maps. Nicaraguan official, Eden Pastora, was tasked with dredging the Rio San Juan river running between Nicaragua and their neighbours, Costa Rica. As part of the operation, 50 Nicaraguan troops ended up taking positions on a river island in Costa Rican territory- or did they? When Pastora was quizzed as to why his men had crossed into neighbouring territory, he simply pointed out that Google Maps shows the island to be clearly within Nicaraguan borders. He was right and Google worked swiftly to correct this (although he still refused to remove his troops).
4. Drug deals get caught on street view: You’ve probably seen the Google cars running around with cameras on top, and probably hidden away too so they don’t pikachu (peek at you…). The 15 lenses in the Street View camera system take photos in various directions, and adjacent cameras on the car take overlapping pictures. The team then aligns the photos and stitches them together to create a continuous 360-degree panoramic image, using imaging techniques to lessen the seams. Inevitably, if you go around photographing every street in a country, you’re bound to see some pretty weird stuff, including the odd drug deal– check out this Buzzfeed article for more crazy examples. Our favourite is this skier caught falling through a shop door in the Alps.
Source: Google Maps
5. Google employs camels: Google is proud of the diversity of their workforce. They advertise how you don’t need to be a top university graduate to do the job well. Indeed, it would seem you don’t even need to be human. For street view in desert terrain where cars can’t drive and bikers can’t bike, Google have come up with their most peculiarly brilliant photography technique yet. Camels. Not just any camels, but camels with the Google cameras mounted on their backs and a sheikh to lead the way.
Source: The Times
6. ‘Street view’ is now ‘everything view’: The Street View team has taken tens of millions of images since the Street View project began in 2007, and they’ve driven more than 5 million unique miles of road. These people (literally) don’t cut corners. Street View technology can even help you see inside buildings. You can virtually walk around the White House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and even inside caves, give it a try. You can even go underground, or indeed underwater to explore the Great Barrier Reef.
7. 3D Street View: We’ve all used Google Maps Street View feature but did you know it works in 3D? Press 3 or T and you can immerse yourself in the 3D world with the help of a pair of red/blue 3D glasses.
8. Google knows where all our smartphones are: How exactly does google determine real time traffic conditions? Click on the white box labelled Traffic in the top-right corner of the map and click on traffic in the pull-down menu and roads will be coloured according to how well traffic is flowing. This is done by using the speed of smartphones on the road. All iPhones and Android phones that have location services turned on anonymously send data back to Google. This allows the company to analyze the total number of cars, and how fast they’re going at any given time. Clever. But the technology is smarter than just that. It goes further and actually predicts traffic patterns. Just because there’s a traffic jam at a junction 1 hr away from you, doesn’t mean the jam will still be there when you reach. This is done using sophisticated mathematical modelling techniques.
9. Data here, data there, data everywhere: Google Maps has over 20 petabytes of data (approximately 21 million gigabytes, or around 20,500 terabytes). That’s huge. For comparison, watching an hour of Netflix uses about 1GB. So Google deals with Big Data on a daily basis. Find out more about Big Data here.
10. No internet? No problem! Very few people are aware of this cool functionality of Google Maps. If you thought you needed internet connection to access google maps, you’re wrong. You can send a text to GOOGLE with a message saying “Directions A to B” quoting the town, ZIP code or street address for the two locations, Google will drop you a text with the same directions you would have found had you access to Google Maps. Very handy when in a foreign country and you don’t have data – specifically for all you Gap Yah backpackers.
11. Top Secret Stuff: Governments can petition any given satellite to blur out sensitive geographical regions, after all you don’t want their military bases open for public viewing, and you certainly don’t want any wild pokemon luring unsuspecting pokenuts there either. Most of the blurred out areas are military bases but some have generated fascinating stories. Notably Baker Lake Inuit Territory in Northern Canada is supposedly hiding 3 extraterrestrial beacons that were stolen from space and placed on earth.
12. From Street View to Shoot View: Shoot view takes the environment of street view, gives you a machine gun and encourages you to scythe down as many passers by as you like. Yes, we’re being serious. The game lets you kill pedestrians and police officers who are actually real people that just happened to be walking by. Unsurprisingly, though perhaps a little ironically, Shoot View was itself shot down by Google after just a couple of days live. However, not before the game had become popular enough to have highs of 3000 players online at any given point in time.
14. Paper towns: Just like the famous John Green novel, Google are also guilty of marking down completely fictional locations on their map. In particular, the mystery village of Argleton in West Lancashire, England, appears on the map but doesn’t exist in real life. Spooky, huh? Well, not really- John Green fans will be aware that mapmakers can sometimes pop these non-existent locations in as a copyright trap for anyone trying to poach the map. This was common practice in the age of paper maps and seems the most likely explanation for the mystery, although Google have yet to confirm. Other explanations offered by the ever-entertaining world of the internet hint at magic realism and the creation of an alternative universe, but perhaps this is a little too exciting for a couple of fields next to the A59? You decide…
15. We are all Google test engineers: if you’ve ever filled in an online form you’ll have come across CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart – phew, mouthful!). In everyday terms, this is that little picture they ask you to decipher to prove you’re a real human and not a random spambot.
So millions of humans are deciphering words and feeding them back to a computer each day by filling in these little boxes. Google thus saw the value in deploying ReCAPTCHA, which is just like CAPTCHA except it takes extracts from real text, such as a scanned in book or a photo of words. Thus, by us humans entering in the correct words, we help Google algorithms to learn what real words look like and provide millions of validations for different words and phrases. In the case of Google Maps, users have started to notice the CAPTCHA tests look suspiciously like people’s door numbers from street view. So, Google is actually using us all as testers for validating their street view processing? Although we feel used, we’ll admit that’s pretty smart of them.