04 September 2007

I Crashed My Fighter Jet Near My House

For those of you who are familiar with Google Earth, they have just released an upgrade which includes a flight simulator. Now I'm not really into flight simulators normally, but this just caught my attention and I had to have a go. The first time I set off from the default location (Kathmandu) and had a cruise around the Himalayas while I tried to get used to the controls. It was a bit difficult at first but after a while I began to get the hang of it. After crashing a couple of times I decided to try somewhere a bit closer to home. The nearest airport you can take off from is London Heathrow, so I tried this and made a few passes over central London.

Now this isn't really a fully-featured flight simulator with full integration into Google Earth, although it does download the real image data and present it as the terrain beneath you (or above you if you happen to fly upside-down). What I found was that once you are airborne there is no way to go back to the normal map mode (at least which I could find), so if you end up getting lost then you're on your own. However with my knowledge of the South-East of England being fairly good as well as my familiarity of the colours of different parts of the region as seen in Google Earth, I decided to see if I could fly over to my house just north of Cambridge. Actually, whilst on route I decided as a measure of my flying skill to see if I could crash into my house! Now the one good thing is that when you leave the flight simulator (either because you have crashed or got bored, or presumably landed safely although I haven't yet tested this option) it leaves you in the normal mode looking at the earth in the position you were in when you left the simulator. So by doing this it's possible to see exactly where you are.

Now I'm going to brag about my flying skills - when I figured out where I had landed, it was bang in the middle of Cottenham, probably about 200 yards from my house as the crow flies. Not bad for a first attempt!

I haven't yet ceased to be amazed by the Google Earth software, it just keeps getting better and better and the new features keep blowing me away. OK, flight simulators aren't particularly new and this isn't a particularly amazing one, but the fact that it's integrated into the software is great in itself, but I wonder where this will end up if taken to its logical conclusion. Presumably future functionality might include recording your flight, with the ability to stop and look at the places over which you fly. Integrated photo albums might be available, as well as wikipedia-type entries about the locations. A wider range of aircraft might become available (there are only two at present), and maybe one day you'll be able to fly to the moon, or Mars (both of which are navigable in Google Maps style Here and Here respectively, although not currently in a format like Google Earth). You can now view the night sky in Google Earth but not while flying, as it only seems to support daytime mode at the moment - it would be good to add real-time day/night data for an extra challenge. What about seeing the Aurora Borealis or Aurora Australis from the air? Or circumnavigating the world in a hot-air balloon, with real air-speed data estimates dictating your path? What about super-imposing other weather data to make your rumble-pack rumble when you hit a patch of turbulence? Or to travel in yet-to-be-invented vehicles such as a flying car (refuelling stops obligatory of course) which would allow you to pass through tunnels and under bridges. In short, it could become a whole virtual world but which doesn't have the same limitations as the real one.

I for one hope that Google Earth continues to be enhanced with some of these ideas and others - it really is a remarkable concept, made possible only by the widespread availability of cheap computers and broadband connections.