Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Google Earth

Interesting article on a report done by a French company called EADS Fleximage on Google Earth.  They were studying it’s impacts and uses for defense and security.

Interestingly, Google has not seen the report yet.
I recall, while attending a conference for a large GIS vendor, hearing lots of talk, some excited some fearful, about Google Earth and what it means to the GIS community.  It’s not replacing the traditional GIS (yet) because it can’t do mapping or analysis very well or at all.  However it’s use as a cheep (free for now) viewing device for simple datasets is unprecedented.

      According to the study, the immediate success of Google Earth can be attributed to two factors: "the unusual accuracy of the images" and "the software's great simplicity of use[,] enabling everyone to intuitively fly over the globe." As for the former, it is not clear what the authors mean — especially since they later bemoan the low resolution of much of the imagery for areas outside the United States and Europe and the inaccuracy of the tiling.

I agree, and I would add that one of it’s strengths is the speed at which it downloads the data to your PC.  Lightning faster than the software I use, which is only trying to get it from a local server as opposed to the internet.  Which is not a reflection of our local network, which is run pretty well.

The article points out that there were anomalies in the accuracy of certain areas.  I.E. when they tested geographic data with known accuracy, there was a significant shift in Google Earth.

However, the part of this article that caught my attention was this:

      The study discusses the question of whether images of buildings and installations of high military value should be censored or altered and who should do so. It shows the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory, in Washington, D.C., where the Vice President's residence is located, blurred in Google Earth — and images of the White House altered.

So if you are looking around on Google and notice something unusually fuzzy, or blurred where you know there is obviously something there, it might be the government.

      It also shows a mysterious square patch in the middle of nowhere, in Nevada. Since the coordinates appear at the bottom of the image, you can go look for it and formulate your own theories about this: 37 degrees, 48' 17.04" N, 115 degrees, 59' 33.55" W.

I looked.  Not sure what they are talking about.  If it’s that white patch just north of there, could that be a salt like deposit?  Or is it a nuclear dump facility?  Best part:

      However, the study then goes on to raise the issue of what should be done in the face of the continually accelerating technological evolution in the field of satellite imagery. "Is making these images available really dangerous? The image itself does not really represent a threat; rather, it is the analysis that can be carried out on it which could represent a danger. ... Censoring Google is not the solution." Moreover, it points out, censoring generates curiosity. Ultimately, then, the study argues, the best solution to real or perceived threats of satellite imagery to national security is... "camouflage, while this is possible." To bolster this claim, it shows images of a camouflaged military airport in China. However, besides not showing the coordinates, the authors seem to miss the irony: they are displaying a military airport, which can be clearly identified as such by the shape of the planes on the tarmack, to make the point that it cannot be identified because the buildings have camouflaged roofs!


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