globetrotting with google
See the world from inside a headset
“stand in front of a giant globe, spin it around, and choose a location”
Despite being an undeniably impressive resource of visual information, Google Earth has always been something of an oddity. While almost every Google product benefits the tech giant by gathering data from users, Google Earth gives data back as a god’s-eye view of the planet. It’s not for work, but it’s not really for play – it’s simply an experience, meant as a demonstration of Google’s knowledge. Google Earth VR, available on the HTC Vive for free on Steam, is the Google Earth you know, but up close. Stand in front of a giant globe, spin it around, and choose a location. Zoom in and fly around, seeing astonishing landscapes from all angles. Grab the sun at any time and move it back and forth to change the lighting. There are even designated destinations in outer space available for VR travellers to visit.
World of information
It’s fair to say VR headsets are still a long way from mainstream ubiquity, but Google Earth VR is something many of us might still get the chance to try out. It’s a free-of-charge utility that demonstrates the HTC Vive’s potential – ideal for show floors or display models. If VR documentaries are for film buffs, and VR games are for gamers, then this is a VR utility for a general audience.
The promotional images and start-up screen look every bit like a travel brochure. So you might expect Google Earth VR to feel like a first taste of holodeck tourism. However, it’s not meant to convey what it feels like to be somewhere else. For something like that, there are dedicated VR documentaries that use not just visuals, but sound and storytelling to evoke a greater sense of immersion. That kind of tourist experience is about emotion, but Google Earth VR is about information. Instead of transporting you somewhere else, it brings the world to you.
Manipulate the Sun and Earth by hand, to move the world around you or change the time of day.
Google’s preview images and shortcut locations emphasise popular tourist attractions around the world.
Away from popular landmarks and cities, some details are very distorted, highlighting the tech’s limitations.