The Street View in Iraq’s National Museum

Over the years, our Street View technology has been used to showcase images from a variety of amazing locations around the world. Without the stress of travelling, we’ve all been able to tour places like Stonehenge, Palace and Park of Versailles, and even Half Moon Island (with the penguins!) in Antarctica. Starting today, you can view Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad on Google Maps, in our Street View Gallery and on the museum’s own website.

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Street View of Iraq National Museum
The project began in October 2009, when the Street View team had the opportunity to visit Baghdad to collaborate with the museum. By this time, the Iraqi National Museum had recovered a slew of articles that were infamously looted during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The collection hosts a staggering wealth of artifacts dating back to some of the earliest human settlements, which developed around present day Iraq. The history of this area is often underrepresented, or otherwise inaccessible, in large part due to the political strife that has plagued Iraq. For this reason, we considered it an important opportunity to showcase Iraq’s National Museum in our Street View Gallery.This was our first attempt to capture an indoor collection at a museum, and we met a host of logistical and technical challenges. While we already had Street View cars visiting cultural landmarks, taking panoramic photos indoors was an untested idea. We had recently completed a prototype of our indoor trolley – which was later used and refined for the Google Art Project, but we were unsure that it would perform how we had envisioned on-site.

For security reasons, we could only spend 4 consecutive hours at the museum per visit. This meant our time there was frantic. We spent most of our first trip assembling and testing the Street View Trolley, installing car batteries that had been hastily acquired in Baghdad, testing GPS antennas, and making numerous satellite phone calls to our Mountain View headquarters to debug issues. While some of us worked on setting up the Trolley, others were photographing everything possible in the museum, trying not to get distracted by artifacts dating back over 6000 years.

Using the Street View indoor trolley to collect imagery

With the Street View Trolley working, we spent our second visit collecting images of the main exhibit halls. We also used high-resolution imaging equipment that enabled a close-up 360-degree view of individual artifacts, a selection of which are viewable on the Antiquities page of the Museum website. We imaged a Mother Goddess figurine that predates recorded history, cuneiform tablets that exemplify one of the earliest forms of writing, and several exquisite examples of early Middle Eastern pottery.

Goddess Figurine
This piece, a clay figurine of a female from the Samarra period, was found at Tell Songor A. The 10.2 cm statue dates back to 5000 BC.

Although we only spent a week in Baghdad, we returned with tens of thousands of still photos. We spent months processing the images – which includes stitching them into the immersive panoramic images you’re accustomed to when using Street View in Google Maps – and working closely with the National Museum to incorporate the imagery into their new website. At long last, we’re thrilled to jointly release the imagery, enabling users anywhere in the world to virtually visit the museum’s exhibit halls and learn more about Iraqi culture through this collection.

For those whose interest is piqued by the collection and are considering visiting the museum in person, we hope these online images tides you over until the official museum reopening planned for later this year. You can experience the the Iraqi National Museum for yourself through our Street View feature in Google Maps, via our Street View Gallery, or take a virtual tour on the museum website.

The Liquid Galaxy at the Space Museum in Washington

Thirty-five years ago this week, the Viking 1 lander touched down on the surface of Mars, beginning an olympian mission of exploration lasting more than 6 years. Today, the Liquid Galaxy immersive Google Earth display lands at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, in the “Moving Beyond Earth” exhibit.


Photo by Mark Avino, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

It’s part of the museum’s annual Mars Day! event, where visitors can learn about the red planet, past and future missions to Mars, and talk to scientists active in Mars research. Adding to the excitement, NASA has just announced the location of the landing site for the next mission to Mars, the Mars Science Laboratory. In November, this SUV-sized robot will make the leap into space and is expected to land in Gale Crater, to look for signs that Mars might have once harbored life.

Designed during engineers’ 20% time, Liquid Galaxy consists of several screens in a circular arrangement, all running Google Earth in parallel for an immersive virtual experience. Visitors can use the podium with touchscreen and a 3D mouse to navigate to an up-close and personal near-360-degree view of the landing site in Google Earth, as well as anywhere else on Mars, the Moon, and of course Earth.

Admission to the museum is free, so be sure to stop by the next time your travels take you to the capital of the United States. While you’re there, enjoy the largest collection of historic spacecraft and aircraft in the world, including a proof test article of the Viking Mars Lander. (Of course, the Viking 1 lander itself took a one-way trip!)

If you can’t make the trip to Washington or Mars yourself, you can always explore the Martian surface from the comfort of your own home using Google Earth, checking out the progress of the current crop of robot explorers, seeing the latest imagery from orbiting satellites or scouting out the Mars Science Laboratory’s future landing site for yourself.

Google Maps 5.5 for Android: Easier Check-ins and rating places

We’ve made it easier to check in and out of places, rate various locations, and get transit information with Google Maps 5.5 for Android. This release adds ‘check in’ and ‘rate and review’ buttons to Place pages, the option to edit your home/work address for Latitude, and redesigned transit station pages.

Read below for more details about the new features, which we hope will improve your user experience, a topic we take very seriously as there are now more than 200 million users of Google Maps for mobile across platforms and devices worldwide.

New check-in and rating buttons added to Place pages

Now when you open a Place page from your mobile device, you can check in to places with Google Latitude or submit a rating or review by clicking on two new buttons at the top of the listing.

This past week I had the chance to explore the Computer History Museum during my visit to San Francisco from across the pond in London. Once nearby, I could quickly open the museum’s Place page and check in.

When I was ready to leave and head to lunch, in a few seconds I could go back to the Place page and rate the museum – which certainly earned the 5 star rating it received from me.

Update home and work address for your Latitude Location History

Last month we released the Location History dashboard for Latitude which estimates how much time you spend at home, work, and everywhere else. If your home or work address changes, or you’d rather set a different address to represent ‘home’ and ‘work,’ you can now edit these addresses within Latitude.

Change home/work location from Location History dashboard

View the redesigned transit station pages

It’s been about two years since we added transit directions in Google Maps for Android. Since then, we’ve increased the coverage from 250 cities to more than 440 and counting – the most recent being Washington, D.C. To make it easier to plan your transit route, we updated the transit station pages in this release to better organize the information you need.

Each page now includes a list of upcoming scheduled departures for different lines, all the transit lines serving the station, and links to nearby transit stations.

Download Google Maps 5.5 for Android here to try out the new check-in and rating buttons, update your Latitude Location History home/work address, check out a transit station in a nearby city, or just make sure you have the latest version of Google Maps for Android. This update requires an Android OS 1.6+ device anywhere Google Maps is currently available. Learn more in our help center.