Relive your hiking, biking, and other trips in Google Earth

Monday, June 14, 2010 at 1:35 PM

I’m a big fan of traveling and being outdoors. As a software engineer on Google Earth, I rarely go outside without bringing a GPS so that I can plot my adventures in Google Earth. That’s why I’m excited to tell you about the new features in Google Earth 5.2 that make it easier than ever to relive your journey.

In earlier versions of Google Earth you could see your GPS tracks as lines or points on the map. That has worked pretty well, but I’ve always had a nagging feeling that we could do much better, creating animations that show exactly how you move around the world.

With Google Earth 5.2, you can now import existing GPS data as a new kind of “track.” With a track, you can move the time-slider to animate time and retrace your journey. Google Earth will draw an icon so that it is properly positioned for the given time that you are viewing. As you move through time, the icon will animate along your path. You can also select a window of time which will highlight the corresponding section of your trip.

In Google Earth 5.0, we introduced Tours: cinematic, narrated flights around Google Earth. With one click you can make a tour based on your track, which will fly you along your journey from a bird’s-eye view. You can play back the tour like a video and share it with friends.

The best way to explain the power of the new track feature is just to show you some examples. I’ve always had a passion for flight, and earlier this year I decided to take flying lessons. I took a GPS along with me, and imported my tracks into Google Earth. Next, I found a model of a Cessna from the Google 3D Warehouse. Finally, I created tours of those tracks to move the camera along the path of my flights. VoilĂ !

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In addition, a powerful aspect of the new track feature is the ability to show multiple tracks at the same time. If you load multiple tracks into Google Earth that take place in the same period of time, then you can use the timeslider to animate all the tracks simultaneously. For example, if you have GPS tracks for several people in a race, you can use Google Earth to replay the event.

Importing your own tracks

Importing GPS tracks is simple in Google Earth. Just connect your GPS device to your computer and choose “GPS” from the “tools” menu. Alternately, you can download your GPS data from your handheld unit onto your computer as a .gpx, .nmea or .log file and then drag it into Google Earth or open it from the file menu. The GPS data will convert into a KML track and display in the 3D view. If you move the time-slider, you should see your icon move through time.



Making a tour of your track

It’s easy to create a tour of your track. Simply highlight your track in the left-panel, and click on the “Create Tour” button which looks like this:Google Earth will fly you along your track, and move the time-slider to animate your object.

Elevation profiles

While I was obsessed with animation, another engineer on the team, John Rohlf, was interested in visualizing the elevation gains of his hikes and ski trips. He wrote the elevation profile feature, which will graph the elevation of any line or track in Google Earth. For tracks, you can also use the elevation profile to graph speed or any other data that your GPS device records, such as heart rate, cadence, temperature, etc. To see the elevation profile of any line or track, right-click on it in the left-hand panel and select “View Elevation Profile.”



The profile-view will pop up in the bottom of the window. If you move your mouse around the graph, a big red arrow in the 3D view will show you the corresponding point in 3D. You can also view other graphs by clicking on the names of the other data types. If you select just a portion of the elevation profile, you can get statistics for just that section, such as the average grade of a climb. Try it out! You can see how high you hiked, or how fast you drove... just be careful. We won’t pay your speeding tickets.



Example tracks
Here are some examples to get you started:
Biking on Twin Peaks in San Francisco
Peter’s bike to work ride
Dan’s flight

For more information
For more advanced track usage, including instructions on how to incorporate 3D models into your KML, see the KML reference guide.

Download Google Earth 5.2 today at http://earth.google.com.