Google Maps now covers 75% of global pop, 26 million miles of directions

Google's VP of engineering discusses the key ingredients to a modern mapping service and what Google is doing to improve map data worldwide.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO -- Imagery, vector data and delivery are the three key ingrediants to creating a successful, modern mapping service, according to Brian McClendon, vice president of Google Geo.

See also: 200 million Facebook users tagged by location on a monthly basis

Speaking at the WHERE Conference on Wednesday, McClendon covered the evolution of the Google Maps and Earth projects, which are essentially based in these three principles.

McClendon was a co-founder and angel investor in Keyhole, the geospatial data visualization company acquired by Google in 2004 that eventually produced Google Earth.

Starting with imagery, in 2006, 37 percent of the world population covered by high-resolution imagery. Starting off with aerial satellite images, that library has grown with the integration of other sources, such as historical photos.

By 2012, that number has jumped to 75 percent of the global popultation. To keep things consistent and current, Google Earth is updated every two weeks with as much new and updated imagery as possible.

As for vector data, most of us have noticed that what we see on Google Maps has increased considerably in the last couple of years.

"The map is not just what you see," McClendon said, explaining that this means mapping services need to include more and as much information as possible when charting streets, such as speed limits and one-way traffic limits.

Street View started in 2007 with five cities using 5-megapixel cameras on cars driving around city streets. Now, over 3,000 cities in 35 countries are covered will millions of miles of published images.

Even all seven continents are covered  to some extent-- including Antarctica as McClendon took a few snapshots of (wait for it) some penguins that you can search for on Street View.

Google Street View and Places have also expanded with side projects, such as interior shots via Google Business Photos and the Google Art Project, which was updated yesterday to boast high-definition scans of more than 32,000 pieces of art from 151 museums worldwide.

In 2008, Google Maps could provide driving directions within 22 countries, spanning 13 million miles of road. Now, it stands at 187 countries covering 26 million miles of driving directions.

Google users can also get in on the mapping action themselves and help serve the community using the Google Map Maker. McClendon pointed out that this has proved especially helpful in developing countries where access to charting remote areas might be limited.

Finally, delivery is key as McClendon admitted Google Maps can't afford any downtime. Thus, using dynamic tiles from eight data centers, Google Maps boasts 99.995 percent availability.

"2D maps are just the beginning," McClendon asserted, positing that 3D is the future for digital and online mapping services.

He concluded, "Five years from now, we're not going to be debating about 2D. We're going to be solving the problems of finding ourselves in the real world."


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