A Global Travel Pass

Fast Company - - Innovation By Design - —Ben Paynter

The Prod­uct: Google Earth VR en­ables users to tele­port vir­tu­ally any­where in the world. The free desk­top ap­pli­ca­tion, which works with an HTC Vive or Ocu­lus Rift head­set, com­piles satel­lite and aerial im­agery to re­con­struct a sim­u­lated globe that is ren­dered from the user’s point of view. Users can explore any ma­jor city, ru­ral out­post, or child­hood home. Since its de­but in late 2016, the app has been down­loaded more than 900,000 times. It’s also got­ten faster and re­ceived two im­por­tant up­grades: Users can now search by place name or ad­dress and use Street Views to explore 360-de­gree pho­tos at ground level—or even un­der wa­ter in some spots. The ex­pe­ri­ence can be so pro­found that re­searchers at Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity’s is­pace Lab are us­ing Earth VR to study what as­tro­nauts call the “over­view ef­fect”: peo­ple be­ing awestruck af­ter en­coun­ter­ing a new per­spec­tive on the planet. “I never strived to make peo­ple cry,” says prod­uct man­ager Joanna Kim. “But if they’re cry­ing be­cause they just feel so over­whelmed with the beauty of the earth or a beau­ti­ful mem­ory, then I think that is a suc­cess.” The Process: To counter sim­u­la­tor sick­ness, which of­ten plagues users fly­ing around vir­tual worlds, the Earth VR team cre­ated a new per­spec­tive dubbed “tun­nel vi­sion”: Any­thing out­side a cen­tral, cir­cu­lar field of view ap­pears gray and blurry. A horizon line in the dis­tance helps main­tain bear­ings. Some smaller cities and re­gions have yet to be densely mapped: Google hopes users will help by sub­mit­ting their own 360 pho­tos through Street View.

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