The quest for the perfect map

(Cross posted from the Official Google Blog)

For the last decade we’ve obsessed over building great maps for our users—maps that are totally comprehensive (we’re shooting for literally the whole world), ever more accurate and incredibly easy to navigate.


It’s a pretty limited search engine that only draws from a subset of sources. In the same way, it’s not much of a map that leaves you stranded the moment you step off the highway or visit a new country. Over the last few years we’ve been building a comprehensive base map of the entire globe—based on public and commercial data, imagery from every level (satellite, aerial and street level) and the collective knowledge of our millions of users.

Today, we’re taking another step forward with our Street View Trekker. You’ve seen our cars, trikes, snowmobiles and trolleys—but wheels only get you so far. There’s a whole wilderness out there that is only accessible by foot. Trekker solves that problem by enabling us to photograph beautiful places such as the Grand Canyon so anyone can explore them. All the equipment fits in this one backpack, and we’ve already taken it out on the slopes.

Luc Vincent, engineering director, taking the Street View Trekker for a trial run in Tahoe


The next attribute map makers obsess over is accuracy. We still have a way to go because the world is constantly changing—with new houses, cities and parks appearing all the time—it’s a never ending job. But by cross-checking the data we have, we can significantly improve the accuracy of our maps. Turns out our users are as passionate about the quality of Google Maps as we are, and they give us great feedback on where we can do better. We make thousands of edits a day based on user feedback through our Report a Problem tool and via Map Maker, which we launched in 2008. Today we’re announcing the expansion of Map Maker to South Africa and Egypt, and to 10 more countries in the next few weeks: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.


The final element of the perfect map is usability. It’s hard to remember what digital maps were like before Google Maps went live in 2005, and the huge technological breakthroughs that transformed clicking on arrows and waiting, to simply dragging a map with a mouse and watching it render smoothly and quickly. Plus, we added one single search box. Today we have thousands of data sources that feed into our maps making them a rich and interactive experience on any device—from driving directions to transit and indoor maps to restaurant reviews.

People have been asking for the ability to use our maps offline on their mobile phones. So today we’re announcing that offline Google Maps for Android are coming in the next few weeks. Users will be able to take maps offline from more than 100 countries. This means that the next time you are on the subway, or don’t have a data connection, you can still use our maps.

The next dimension

An important next step in improving all of these areas—comprehensiveness, accuracy, and usability of our maps—is the ability to model the world in 3D. Since 2006, we’ve had textured 3D buildings in Google Earth, and today we are excited to announce that we will begin adding 3D models to entire metropolitan areas to Google Earth on mobile devices. This is possible thanks to a combination of our new imagery rendering techniques and computer vision that let us automatically create 3D cityscapes, complete with buildings, terrain and even landscaping, from 45-degree aerial imagery. By the end of the year we aim to have 3D coverage for metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300 million people.

I have been working on mapping technology most of my life. We’ve made more progress, more quickly as an industry than I ever imagined possible. And we expect innovation to speed-up even more over the next few years. While we may never create the perfect map … we’re going to get much, much closer than we are today.

Space Archeologists discovering ancient tombs in Egypt


While we’ve often referred to them as “Armchair Archeologists“, Dr. Sarah Parcak is doing similar work by finding thousands of important ancient settlements through the use of infrared satellite imagery.



According to Gizmodo, the satellite that captures the infrared imagery is accurate to one meter, and makes pyramids, tombs and settlements easier to spot even if they are completely buried. Because ancient Egyptians used mud brick, it is much denser than the soil around it and can be picked up with infrared satellite imagery.

She recently traveled to Egypt to during which they excavated a 3,000-year-old house, and the outline of the structure matched her imagery almost exactly! This was great validation of the work she’s been doing.

You can read more about what she has done and her future plans on the BBC website.

Stefan at Ogle Earth has dug into this story as well, and has created a nice file to use for comparison purposes. Grab his KMZ file to see a comparison between some of Dr. Parcek’s imagery and the base Google Earth imagery for the same area.

Great User Created Maps Chronicling Egypt

During the crisis in Egypt, third-party Geo developers helped the international community understand the situation and keep persons affected by the crisis safe through the use of innovative new tools. These same tools can be replicated by anyone in any crisis situation. In the developer examples below, three things jump out as particularly striking: How quickly these maps were built and put into action, some within hours of the first protests; how developers (many contributing independently) from all over the world worked together to get these maps up and running; and how geo-context has become extremely important for the international community in understanding and responding to any crisis, be it natural or man-made.

NY Times – Mapping the Protest in Cairo Day by Day

In this map, the New York Times has plotted the locations of the protests and clashes with police. There are also pictures, videos and contextual information provided in the icon info bubbles.

Al Jazeera – Mapping the Day of Wrath

This website features a video illustrating the geographic spread of the protests using fly-over animations in Google Earth. The same webpage includes maps with information about protests in Cairo and throughout Egypt.

Hypercities Egypt

Twitter’s real-time updates have become an invaluable tool for the Egyptian protest organizers, observers and citizens looking to stay safe. Hypercities Egypt used Google Maps to display geolocated tweets as they came streaming in. Also, view another Egypt Twitter map created by MiBazaar.

GeoEye Tahrir Square Imagery

The imagery above is of Tahrir Square on January 29, 2011 at around 10:30am local time from more than 400 miles above. This imagery is exclusively viewable in Google Earth (and the Earth API) using the historical imagery tool. The imagery highlights GeoEye’s stunning ability to respond to world events and capture timely imagery.

Egypt Protests in Google My Maps by

During the crisis, many Geo developers and persons without a Geo developer background collaborated on Google My Maps to chronicle the events geographically as they unfolded, such as this one by Storyful. Using the My Maps tool, anyone with access to Google Maps could create a collaborative mash-up with custom icons, colored polygons, content rich info-bubbles and many other features. Once completed, the map can be shared globally through My Maps or embedded on a website. Access can also be restricted to a select group of people if need be. Learn more at


How you can help: During a crisis situation, up-to-date maps are often crucial for organizing humanitarian aid and effective response. In many regions, however, accurate and local map data is sparse, out of date, or not available at all. You can add your geographic knowledge to Google Maps by contributing map edits in Google Map Maker, which is currently available in select countries and territories.