In today’s installment of our Touch Tuesdays series, we’re celebrating the launch of Google Earth VR for Rift. Explore the world in ways never before possible—all for free on the Oculus Store.
Winner of the 2017 Lumiere Century Award for its environmental impact, Google Earth VR lets people experience our planet from a powerful new perspective. We sat down with Engineering Lead Dominik Kaeser to get his take on the project he co-founded.
Why Rift? Why now?
Dominik Kaeser: We want as many people as possible to be able to explore our planet in Google Earth VR, so bringing the experience to Rift was a natural next step for us. The Touch controllers have precise analog sticks, which are a great fit for the way you move around in Google Earth VR. We want people to be able to both grab and move the planet, plus fly at varying speeds.
What’s your favorite place to visit in Google Earth VR?
DK: My favorite sessions are those where I can experience a diverse set of environments that I didn't expect. For example, I may start with Cinque Terre in Italy (one of our new locations for this launch), which is a beautiful place by itself, and then explore from there. I often find the most awe-inspiring things just flying around, but, if I had to pick one place, I would probably pick the Swiss Alps, which is where I spent much of my life.
Who would get the most out of Google Earth VR?
DK: We want to give people easy access to our planet’s far-off cities and landscapes. That includes people who have never left their hometown, as well as seasoned world travelers who want to find their next destination.
Google Earth VR gives you an incredible high-level overview of the world to a degree that’s very hard to get in real life. My wife and I recently backpacked through South America for six weeks. We planned it all out by first exploring the continent through Google Earth VR, so we could see all of our potential destination from above. Now that we’re back, we can relive our memories by revisiting those places in VR. It puts our up-close experience into perspective.
What’s the craziest experience you’ve had in Google Earth VR?
DK: I still remember the very first time I got our rendering code to work on a VR headset. I used San Francisco as a test scene, but when I put on the headset I noticed that all the buildings were incredibly small. After looking at the code, I realized that I had accidentally used an interpupillary distance that was off by a factor of 100. That’s where we got the idea of scaling the user up and down, which ended up being central to the way you navigate in Google Earth VR.
How do you think VR will continue to impact the way we interact with the world around us moving forward?
DK: The first time people try Google Earth VR, they’re often overwhelmed by being able to fly over cities and move the land under their feet. And when they find a brand new place they didn’t know was out there, it can be a pretty profound feeling. It’s those types of experiences that I hope help people realize how big, precious, and diverse our planet is.
We’re always listening to feedback from the VR community. Search and Oculus support have been at the very top of the wish list for a long time. We want Google Earth VR to let anyone travel anywhere in an experience that’s as intuitive and high-fidelity as possible, so we’ll continue to look at ways to add to the experience. We’ll make sure to keep the community updated as we have more to share.
Thanks for sharing your perspectives, Dominik. We can’t wait for the Rift community to check out the world from the unique vantage points made possible by Google Earth VR.
— The Oculus Team