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From home to outer space, the new Google Earth is full of things to do

Google Earth
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

It was already easy enough to lose yourself in Google Earth. Whether you’re dodging through the narrow alleys of Kobe, Japan, or skimming Lake Achen in Austria, Google Earth offers rich 360-degree content, along with spectacular satellite imagery that can satiate any hunger for exploration.

But Google went a step further this week with a major update that not only redesigned the interface, but also added rich textual and visual content from partners such as BBC Earth, NASA, and the Jane Goodall Institute. The new Voyager tab acts as a curated magazine that houses stories from these select partners, and it even features never before seen behind-the-scenes content from shows such as Planet Earth II. There’s also plenty of packaged content from the Google Street View team you can check out. Say goodbye to any other plans you had this weekend, as we explore all the new possibilities in the new Google Earth.

This is home

Google Earth

The first address most of us type when we see the blue marble floating in space is home. It’s why one of the highlights of the Culture category in the new Voyager tab is a series called “This is Home.” This series takes a look at some traditional homes of cultures and people most of us may not know much about. There are five homes you can visit at the moment: an Inuit Igloo, Bedouin tent, Reed House, Sherpa home, and Greenlandic Illoq. Tap on one and you’ll be taken to the geographical coordinates, with a brief description of the person and the area. There are usually three “cards” telling the story of the culture and the home — the first shows the satellite view, the second offers a Street View 360-degree image, and the third takes us into the home itself. Stories of more homes are on the way.

This is Home

Nature and wildlife

Google Earth

With the new Voyager tab, you can learn more about nature and wildlife than ever before. Partners include BBC Earth, the Jane Goodall Institute, the World Wildlife Fund, and The Ocean Agency, among others. What’s neat is that much of the content is from decades of back catalogs from these various agencies, and you can even find behind-the-scenes content that has yet to be aired — such as when the BBC Earth team found a Komodo dragon in their bathroom. A lot of this content includes videos you can watch in Google Earth, without needing to leave the site.

The Natural Treasures series, for example, lets you choose environments like “Islands,” “Mountains,” and “Jungles,” to explore. For example, if you choose Mountains, you’ll get a story describing major mountains and the surrounding area. Most of these have accompanying videos you can enjoy.

“We’re trying to give viewers that deeper experience,” Chadden Hunter, a producer at the BBC Natural History Unit, told Digital Trends. “With this fully interactive tool, we’re hoping people will just explore for hours.”

There’s a lot of content to sift through, as there’s more than a 100 assets from BBC Earth alone. You can check it all out by tapping on the Voyager icon on the left, and clicking on Nature.

The view from space

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

You can’t talk about Earth and satellite images without mentioning NASA, a partner with the new Google Earth. The space agency currently has two stories you can explore in Google Earth: “Scenes from Space” and “Reading the ABCs from Space.” The latter involves scrolling through the alphabet with geographical structures that look just like the letters — you’ll also find fun, quirky descriptions with each letter. “Scenes from Space” takes a look at gorgeous landscapes via satellite images, with a description and links to read more about what you’re seeing.

To check out NASA Earth Observatory’s content, tap the Voyager icon, and head to Nature.

Travel and history

Google Earth

Google already has Trips, an app you can use to plan your next vacation, but you can use the new Google Earth for this as well. The Travel tab in Voyager offers curated points of interest in major cities around the world, such as Paris, Tokyo, New York City, and more. If you choose to explore Paris, for example, you can find stories like “72 Hours in Paris: Day 1,” where you’ll see multiple points of interest to visit.

The History tab seems to be more of an assortment of random stories from the Street View team and some other partners. The list here is small, but you can explore interesting pieces such as “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks,” and “Lost Civilizations from Above.”

A surprising Sesame Street tie-in

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Sesame Street is broadcast in more than 150 countries, reaching more than 156 million children around the world. The tie-in here is to provide educational content for children through the Muppets, who act as role models promoting education, good habits, respect, and understanding.

The first story from Sesame Street on Google Earth is called “Girls Around the World,” and you’ll find aired content from 12 different co-productions in places such as Afghanistan and India. Tap on a country and children can learn a little about the place, meet the local Muppet, and even see the Muppet interviewing locals. There’s also a lot of content that’s told by kids, for kids.

To find Sesame Street in Google Earth, tap on the Voyager icon on the left, tap on Culture, and find Sesame Street’s Girls Around the World. Expect more content to be added often.

Sesame Street’s Girls Around the World

Tips and tricks

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There are a few neat tricks in the new Google Earth you should know about. Firstly, if you have a Google Chromecast, you can cast to your TV. On Chrome, find the Cast icon on the top right and share your tab to a nearby Chromecast device. On Android, you’ll need to open the Google Home app, slide out the navigation drawer, and tap on Cast screen/audio. 

There’s also a dice icon below Voyager on the sidebar — tap it to trigger “I’m Feeling Lucky,” where Google will take you to a random point in the world. You can bookmark any place you visit, and you can find these saved places in the My Places tab on the sidebar.

You can also share a location with just a link. Tap the Share icon in the sidebar and you can either copy the link to your clipboard, or share it directly to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Immerse yourself to the max in VR

Google Earth VR

Got an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive? The Google Earth VR app is now available on both platforms, and it allows you to fly to anywhere in the world. You can take cinematic tours, visit featured places, and even move the position of the sun to transform the place you’re in from day to night. You can grab the app from the Oculus store here, and you can find it on Steam for the HTC Vive.

Google told Digital Trends that Voyager content will regularly be updated with partners. The new Google Earth is available on Android and the Google Chrome browser. An iOS version is in the works, and the company is looking to bring the experience to other browsers as well.

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