How Does Google Maps Work?

Hey over there, I can see you! Where you ask?
EVERYWHERE! I just pull it up from a satellite. Hey gang, Trace here for DNews! There was
a time when satellite imagery was conspiracy talk, only available to high-level government
officials, or, like, spies. But thanks to Google Maps and Apple Maps, and Bing Maps,
and Mapquest and the dozens of others out there we can see satellite images every day!
For FREE! Though we just use them to find the nearest
thai restaurant… the process of getting them into your phone is INVOLVED, man. The
first reconnaissance, or spy satellites were the Corona satellites launched in the 1960s.
They had film cameras on board, and to get that film back to earth, they ejected it with
a parachute and had to go pick it up! The Air Force would try and snag it out of the
air, or the Navy would sail over once it hit the ocean. These early experiments taught us how to take
pictures from a moving satellite of a moving planet while 100 miles up. For example, the
lenses on the Corona satellites rotated constantly to keep the shot steady. They even tried angling
two cameras to capture a stereo image! Spy satellites were so good at grabbing images
without letting the spyees know what was up, the United States and other nations continue
to use them! But when Google acquired satellite imaging
company Keyhole in 2004, they changed the whole game. Now anyone could look down on
the planet and make comments. They still blur sensitive areas, as required by world governments,
but mostly the images we’re seeing are WAY better than the ones we used in the 60s to
determine how to avoid World War Three. Today, the actual satellite images are taken
by companies like TeleAtlas, DigitalGlobe, EarthSat, Skybox, and others. They’re then
sold or licensed to governments and companies for geology, mapping, urban planning, shipment
tracking… the applications are endless. This is why some of the images on satellite
maps are lower resolution than others. Each company is working with different equipment
and regulations keep the companies from scanning faces, backyards or license plates. A few months ago, regulators loosened restrictions
on U.S.-based DigitalGlobe. So last week, they launched the WorldView-3 satellite, their
highest resolution sat ever. Which means, in a few weeks, maps could see images with
a resolution as high as 25 centimeters! Basically, they’ll be able to see a piece of paper, but
not read it. They WANT to launch sats with 10 cm resolution, about the size of your phone
screen. Google says the data on their maps are updated as often as possible, so though
they’re not LIVE, some images are as new as two weeks old, and none are older than three
years. Which means this new, high-res 25 centimeter imagery might be appearing soon. Each mapping
company is in charge of stitching the images into one, giant map, adding the locations
of interest and keeping it regular. But speaking of real time data; that stuff
is notoriously locked up. Remember, the satellites are moving, the planet’s moving… viewers
of live images can only see what the satellite is looking at during any particular moment,
and moving a sat to look at your ex’s driveway isn’t really practical. But a NASA program
called EarthKAM is letting students get access to real time space cameras — not via spy
sats, but via a camera right on the international space station! Schools around the world are signing up students
by the thousands to explore our planet using live images, because there’s just something
about seeing this information in real time, amirite? Students of the Sally Ride EarthKAM
program can directly control the camera, taking pictures of the Earth and analyzing human
geography, geology, ecology, and global change! They even learn about space operations and
do flight control simulations! Sign me up! How do you feel about satellites getting more
accurate images? Freaked out? Excited? Go on, let loose in the comments and be sure
you subscribe for more DNews, seven days a week. And as long as you’re in a clicking
mood, click here or on the link in the description to RSVP for our next SpaceOut on August 27th
at 4pm Pacific! Each month, Ian O’Neill and I get together and hangout with experts from
NASA/JPL to talk space. This month, it’s about Europa! Planned robotic missions, possibilities
of alien life, and cutting through ice millions of miles away! It’s going to be awesome. RSVP
now, so you don’t get lost on the way. Thanks for watching!

Danny Hutson

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