Walk like an Egyptian with Street View in Google Maps

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 2:00 AM

Candlelight flickering on a stone wall covered in hieroglyphs. A proud queen brought low by the bite of a snake. Reeds rustling along a river, waiting to be turned into papyrus, or maybe a basket. The civilization of ancient Egypt stood for thousands of years and left behind a rich legacy of architecture, art, medicine, politics, culture and more. Today, it looms large in our imagination as the home of Cleopatra, Ptolemy, Tutankhamun, people who worshipped cats as gods and buried their embalmed dead in tombs filled with treasures and sustenance for the afterlife.

Now the Egypt of your imagination can be brought to life with new Street View imagery in Google Maps, and you can take a virtual walk among the stunning monuments and rich history of this ancient civilization.

Start where most tourists do: at the Pyramids of Giza, which rise from the vast expanse of the Sahara like man-made mountains. Just kilometers from the bustling, modern city of Cairo, the Pyramids have stood for nearly 5,000 years, a testament to the ingenuity and ambition of the ancient Egyptian people.

The Giza Necropolis is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, and is home to the last standing wonder of the ancient world: the Great Pyramid. Built as a tomb and a symbol of eternity for the Pharoah Khufu, it stands 139 meters high (the height of the world’s highest roller coaster!) and was the tallest man-made structure on Earth for 3,800 years. Look beyond it to the west, and you’ll see the pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure, built by Khufu's son and grandson.

Now turn east to the Great Sphinx, the oldest and largest known monumental sculpture in the world. With the body of a lion and the head of a human, it measures a grand 73 meters long and 20 meters high. Literally translating to “Father of Dread,” this mythical creature is believed to resemble Pharaoh Khafre, who was the ruler at the time of construction.

In addition to the Giza Necropolis, you can explore The Pyramid of Djoser, the ancient site of the world’s very first Pyramid designed by the great Egyptian Architect Imhotep in the ancient burial ground of Saqqara.

Other sites you can check out on your virtual tour include: Abu Mena, one of the oldest sites of Christianity in Egypt—the church, baptistry, basilicas and monasteries; the Hanging Church, one of the oldest Coptic Churches in the world; the Cairo Citadel, a medieval Islamic fortification and historic site; and the Citadel of Qaitbay, a 15th-century defensive fortress on the Mediterranean coast.

If wandering through the imagery of these historical sites has piqued your interest in Egyptology, head over to the Google Cultural Institute, where you can explore the treasures of ancient Egypt through a series of drawings, historic photographs and artifacts from the famed sites.

The Pyramids of Giza have survived nearly five millennia and are the planet’s oldest man-made wonder. Now their legacy—and the legacy of many other sites of ancient Egyptian culture—are preserved in a new way with panoramic and immersive Street View imagery. We hope you’ll take a moment to step back in time and explore what was once known as the Gift of the Nile.

Making of Maps: Ground Truth glue

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 9:00 AM

The final post in our Making of Maps series shows you how Ground Truth brings all the pieces of Google Maps together. Catch up on posts 1, 2, & 3 for more info! — Ed.

Henman Hill or Murray Mound? For years, British tennis fans have argued over the proper name for this hill near Wimbledon. Recently, this quirky debate over naming rights made its way to Google Maps, as people used our Map Maker tool to wrestle over the knoll’s identity. Never fear, tennis fans: whichever name you prefer, you’ll be sent to the right location when you look it up on Google Maps—let’s call it deuce.

Making sure you get to the right place, no matter what name you know it by, is just the sort of thing our Ground Truth team handles every day. Ground Truth’s aim is to keep Google Maps as up to date and accurate as possible, whether that means considering user reports from Map Maker and Report a Problem or proactively looking for new changes ourselves. Every day we start by scoping out what’s happening in the world—and by using algorithms and a little elbow grease, we can identify what roads will close for Labor Day, what housing developments are opening in Texas, and which street names are changing in Denmark (note: there are a lot of them). Ground Truth gives us the ability to use all this information to shape the map—so we can include colloquial street names, newly opened businesses, and even indoor floor plans.

All the streets in Sondergarden, Denmark were renamed this year as part of a country-wide initiative to make addresses easier to understand

Another way Ground Truth keeps Google Maps accurate is through imagery; and if a picture is worth a thousand words, you can imagine how useful satellite, aerial, and Street View imagery imagery can be. With a bird’s-eye view, we can trace the roads running through a town or identify bodies of water and park boundaries throughout a region. (One of my favorite projects is using satellite images to add golf courses to the map, including green spaces, trails, and each hole on the course.)

Satellite and aerial images are used to trace roads, bodies of water, and more (St. Petersburg, Russia)

With Street View, we can also add the granular detail needed to give you good directions. Intersections become easy to navigate because we can tell which direction each lane will take you; points of interest are easy to find because we can add information that can only be seen from the street, like the name of a restaurant or building address. Combine this with the fact that our Street View cars are designed to pinpoint exactly where each photo was taken, and the map starts to look like a mirror of the real world. 

Street View images can help pinpoint businesses and determine lane directions (Brașov, Romania)

Ground Truth takes information from thousands of sources—governments, imagery, organizations, individuals—and makes it into one cohesive map. But the best part of putting together this giant puzzle is how it helps people every day. It can save you time, empower you to get things done, and give you the opportunity to travel and explore without worry. Reaching our 50th Ground Truth country was an important moment for this project, but it’s far from the end. As long as the world keeps changing, we’ll keep mapping.

Making of Maps: Perspective from the ground

Monday, September 8, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Our third post in the Making of Maps series focuses on two individuals who have made significant contributions to their community’s information on Google Maps. Note: this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. — Ed.

Google Map Maker can give you the tools you need to improve information about your region in Google Maps—whether you’re adding a new road to your town, or getting your entire country on the map. Across the world, mappers have taken the lead on adding what’s most important to them—indigenous communities in Canada have added reservations; Detroit’s cycling enthusiasts have improved the city’s biking lanes and trails; and disaster response volunteers dramatically improved the map of the Philippines following Super Typhoon Yolanda. In Poland, the Google Map Maker community built their map from scratch, adding a remarkable amount of detail along the way. I’ve sat down with two of our biggest mapping contributors in Poland—Jacek and Tomasz—to hear their stories:

Lori: First things first—how’d you get started with Map Maker?
Jacek: As a teenager I was called the "Geograf" or the Geographer because I loved maps. I brought them with me everywhere I went. As a child I loved to open maps and check how right they were, translating what I knew about the world to country lines, dots, shapes, icons. So when I found Map Maker, it was the perfect tool for me to share my knowledge and experience with others.
Tomasz: I’m a teacher and one day I started to search for my school because I was interested to see if people using Google Maps could find it. I discovered that the address was incorrect, so I started to search the Internet for how to correct Google Maps. And that’s how I found Map Maker. I started correcting things—beginning with the place that I work and then correcting the rest of my region. That’s when I met Jacek.

Lori: You’ve both worked with a community of mappers who do an amazing job helping one another. Do you want to talk a little bit about the sort of team you self-organized and how you found each other?
Tomasz: When I first started mapping, I thought I knew everything—I know my region, so I’m the one who knows what should be where, how it should be presented, etc. And then I met Jacek, who showed me what I was doing wrong (I wasn't connecting the roads I added!) and taught me how to map. It’s very important that we lived in the same region because he was already a regional expert reviewer and could review my edits. Jacek was also the one who welcomed me to the Polish Map Maker group.
Jacek: Now Tomasz makes more additions and edits than me! Right now, our group of trusted mappers always has a hangout open so we can chat. With every addition, we consult each other, review it and discuss it in our language whether it’s a good addition or if something needs to be changed. But we also talk about other things!

Tomasz and Jacek were two of the attendees at Poland’s Mapping Summit in Warsaw, March 2014

Lori: Between all this collaborative team mapping and the events you’ve attended, how do you feel Map Maker has impacted your region and Poland overall?
Jacek: It’s had a huge impact. In my city, there’s a big national road which was rebuilt in the last two years. I made changes on the roundabout and bridge over the old road, and my changes were connected with the road’s official opening. My changes were on the map and in navigation within 24 hours. It was fascinating to me that my edits were able to change the lives of citizens of my city, of my region—that they’re able to navigate on good maps that are connected to reality, instead of old ones that are out of date.

Lori: And last but not least, why do you map?
Jacek: Sometimes I don’t map at all. Sometimes I maps for hours. Sometimes the whole day. I’m happy when I have a whole day to map - woah! The most important thing for me is that the map and Google forum is fun.
Tomasz: For me, mapping is a way for me to take a break from the normal things I do, and I can map or review or teach someone else how to map—it gives me a way to help other people in my region.

Jacek & Tomasz helped improve the map detail in their region, Upper Silesia, Poland

Map Maker empowers anyone to contribute their knowledge to Google Maps, making the map even more comprehensive. In our final post, we’ll show you how it fits in with the rest of our authoritative sources, Street View, indoor maps, Ground Truth and more.

Making of Maps: The cornerstones

Thursday, September 4, 2014 at 9:00 AM

This is the second post in our Making of Maps series. Here you’ll get a glimpse of the information we use to build Google Maps from authoritative sources and our own mapping tools. —Ed.

With Google Maps by your side, you have a co-pilot for everything from turn-by-turn directions, to discovering new restaurants to deciding which hiking trails to climb next. This is possible in large part because Google Maps includes information from thousands of authoritative sources as varied as the U.S. Geological Survey, the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, and Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI). But even all this isn’t enough to build the most comprehensive map. To give you the highest quality results, we need to fill in details like the right place to turn on an unmarked road and indoor maps of your local museum.

Over the years, we’ve created new sources of information to fill in those details. In fact, one of the most important sources for Google Maps is our own Street View imagery. In addition to giving you a way to virtually explore the world, Street View has helped to improve the quality of what we call our “basemap.” With ground-level images, we can identify one-way roads, pinpoint addresses on the map, and verify street names. This added level of detail gives you better search results, more accurate directions, and smoother turn-by-turn navigation.

Adding and verifying street names and turn restrictions in Taipei City, Taiwan

But Street View isn’t the only way we fill in details on Google Maps. Today, we’re releasing six indoor maps created with our new mapping tool called Cartographer. Cartographer is a backpack equipped with Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) technology.

The Cartographer creates indoor floor plans on the fly

As the backpack-wearer walks through a building, SLAM technology generates the floor plan in real time and displays it on an Android tablet connected to the backpack’s computer. The wearer can then add points of interest on the go, such as a T-rex replica in a museum. As fast as you can walk, you can map with Cartographer—so you can create floor plans for a 39-story building, like the San Francisco Marriott Marquis hotel, in just a few hours!

Deutsches Museum in Germany features aircrafts and helicopters in historic hangars

Projects like these make Google Maps unique. Our own mapping tools supplement the information from authoritative sources, making it easier for you to get where you need to go.

But the world is big and changes happen every day—businesses open and close, roads go under construction, and new parks are built. You know your neighborhood and what’s important to your local community better than anyone, which is why we created a tool called Map Maker that empowers anyone—from the avid mapper to the traveling businesswoman—to update the map as the world changes. Next up, we’ll talk to members of the Map Maker community to hear their stories. Until next time!

Making of Maps: Reaching a milestone

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 at 9:00 AM

This is the first in a series of posts taking you behind the scenes of how Google makes its Maps. —Ed.

When you head out your door, you’ve got directions in your pocket—whether you’re driving to your aunt’s place in the mountains, cycling to a new biergarten or taking the train downtown. For Google Maps to get you there, it needs to be a digital mirror of the real world. But the real world is always changing. So to make sure your map is an accurate reflection of your world, we started Ground Truth, a project that brings the freshest, most relevant information to Google Maps.

Today, we’ve reached our 50th Ground Truth country with the addition of five new countries: Taiwan, Malaysia, Poland, Romania, and the last regions of Russia. We’re also rolling out Google Map Maker and Report a Problem—our crowdsourcing map tools—to Taiwan, Russia and Malaysia, giving anyone in those countries the ability to share and contribute their local knowledge directly to Google Maps.

For these countries, that means clearer, more detailed depictions of points of interest like walking paths in parks or department lables in universities, a reworking of the road network with new street names and turn restrictions, and faster updates to the map. In the unique case of Poland and Romania, both of which have Map Maker communities that were instrumental in building the map from scratch, it also means providing more resources to bring the same level of map detail to all regions in these countries.

Over the next week, we’re pulling back the curtain to show you how Ground Truth and Map Maker work together to build Google Maps. Much of the magic behind Maps comes from people—from the Googlers who spend hours perfecting every road in the world, to the users who come together to improve the quality of maps in their local communities. To build the map, we have to gather high-quality information; in the next post, we’ll show you what that process looks like—and show off a new mapping technology. Stay tuned!