Google Earth Ready to Travel the World

The successor to the Keyhole 3-D mapping software, due out in weeks, combines aerial imagery with Google's local search results and driving directions.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—Google co-founder Sergey Brin has an answer to online travel, and it doesnt involve booking a ticket on an airplane.

He calls it Google Earth, the new name Google revealed here Thursday for the Keyhole 3-D mapping technology it acquired last year.

During a media event at its campus, Google unveiled plans to release Google Earth within the next few weeks.

It will replace the current Keyhole desktop software with a client that incorporates Googles local search and driving directions service on top of a birds eye view of the world.

Brin demonstrated how in the new release, he could "fly"—in a virtual sense—through the Grand Canyon, a landmark hes never visited in person, and view the canyons peaks and valleys.

"Now I dont have to go," he said.

Brin said that Google Earth takes the satellite images recently made available on Google Maps to the next level.

Users will be able to search for a location, zoom in on aerial images and then layer driving directions on top of the 3-D map.

Another Google Earth option will let a user animate those driving directions in order to take a skyward tour of a trip.

Google Earth will access Keyholes expanded database of aerial and satellite images. The database itself was updated last week, said John Hanke, Googles general manager for Keyhole.

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The database now includes terrain data from such sources as NASA and covers more locations on the globe, including more rural and wilderness areas that are missing in Keyholes current release, said Hanke, in an interview.

Google Earth also raises the bar in terms of the resolution of its imagery. Resolution has increased across the board, and more areas, such as major European cities, will be viewable in the highest resolution.

"Even the parts not covered by the highest resolution are still higher resolution," said Brin, who is Googles president of technology.

Keyhole currently offers paid versions of its desktop software, both a personal edition and professional edition.

Hanke declined to say whether Google Earth, which will replace the offerings, would also be sold for a fee or would become a free download like much of Googles other software and services.

There is one catch to traveling Google Earth, as Brin and Hanke learned the hard way on stage. The software works by retrieving mapping data over the Internet from Keyholes multi-terabyte database.

When the pair momentarily lost an Internet connection during their demonstration, Google Earth was grounded.

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