Google Earth is a virtual globe, map and geographical information program. Originally created by Keyhole under the name EarthViewer 3D, Google played with developing 3D models and similar improvements, ultimately leading to the release of Google Earth VR. This is somewhat a surprise project from Google’s Geo team, both just announced and released today. The group has spent the better part of a decade collecting and cataloging an obscene amount of visual data from all over the planet. Now, all that visual data is used to make Earth in Virtual Reality.
When you start exploring, you begin your journey looking at the Earth from space, just like in normal Google Earth. From there you can rotate the globe and choose where to begin zooming in. You can also go to wanted locations, if they are covered by the Google Earth VR. There are around 175 cities with full, 3D data, and over 600 ‘urban cores’ as well. Google Earth turns all of this data into completely explorable, scalable 3D immersive worlds for the HTC Vive VR headset. Some of Google Earth VR’s content looks really, really crappy, though. Squishy geometry and fuzzy textures will make some of your favorite real-life locations look like they’ve been ripped out of an N64 game. But this is a great experience for checking out landmarks, and other famous public places in a one-for-one scale.
Google Earth VR’s primary locomotion system is flight. Developers decided that they didn’t feel that the standard locomotion systems of teleportation or joystick walking would work for this particular project. They want you to feel and remember the journeys you take as you devour every corner of the places you are exploring. Initially, the experience gives you a comfort mode in which your FOV is narrowed as you fly to reduce simulator sickness. This can be disabled in the options menu for those that prefer more uninhibited traversal.
The app is available now for free on the HTC Vive. And future support for other headsets is not known. Google Earth VR is like nothing else available today. The scope and overall philosophy are one of the VR scene’s first truly immersive spaces. Virtual reality is really progressing day by day, and soon we will be able to see whole world from our rooms, using VR headsets.