Using Google Earth to visualize the toll of war

Sunday, May 24, 2009 at 9:45 AM


For many of the people on my team, working with Google Earth is not just a day job, it's a personal passion. For example, take Sean Askay. As a graduate student he began experimenting a few years ago with using Google Earth to display complex data, including in his thesis when he used Google Earth to visualize sensor networks. It was also around that time that he began a mapping project to honor servicemen and women who, since October 2001, had lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. He published this map to the Google Earth Community in 2005 and then, two years later, found himself working here at Google.

While he's certainly kept himself busy working on the Google Earth Outreach team, he has continued to work on his map as a 20% project and in his personal time. Google Earth has come a long way since he first started this project in 2005, and all along, Sean's been updating his map with the product's newest features. Throughout the process, Sean consulted with current and retired servicemen and women, as well as veterans' organizations in the United States. He also reached out to many families of the fallen and Warrant Officer Frank McVey, a retired member of the UK's Royal Air Force (and avid Google Earth user), for guidance and help with this project.

This layer uses over 24,000 placemarks, 6,000 folders, 2,500 screen overlays, and line arcs with over 250,000 vertices, all to create an immersive and compelling user experience. By making extensive use of Google Earth 5.0's new features, including iframes, CSS and JavaScript support in balloons and time-based navigation, you can now fly to a place and time. With a blend of navigation methods, people can look up information about servicemen and women alphabetically, by age, location or chronology. Notably, Sean was also able to develop algorithms for rendering parabolic arcs - that follow rhumb lines - to connect two points on the globe, an innovative technique used to powerful effect in this project.

You can view this impressive layer and read more from Sean about his work on his website.

Brian McClendon, Engineering Director