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Forget static Google Earth: Welcome UrtheCast

By on 28 June 2011 in Gadgets

Forget static Google Earth: Welcome UrtheCast
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Google Earth is now ubiquitous. Static images taken of our homes, streets, cities, nations, continents and even oceans were as close to visual omniscience as we could get. You use it to get from A to B on your iWhatever, providing real texture and flavour to what was previously blocks of colour. It’s safe to say Google Earth revolutionised how we view ourselves and how we travel. And it’s just been kicked in the balls. Hard.

Imagine seeing the Earth in high-definition video, streamed live and entirely customizable. Imagine being able to see major events, like the World Cup or the Olympics, live from space. Hell, you could even check out what your bachelor trip to Ibiza or Vegas looked like. Before, you know, the strip joint burned down.

All of this is being delivered by a small Canadian company called UrtheCast, which will supply video data and imagery of Earth collected by two HD cameras on the Russian module of the International Space Station. This data and imagery will be down-linked to ground stations around the planet and then displayed in real time on the Internet and distributed directly to UrtheCast’s exclusive partners and customers. The project is being launched today and its brace of cameras will begin beaming footage in the spring of 2012.

The UrtheCast web platform will allow users to constantly track the location of the Space Station, anticipating when it will pass over a particular geographic location. Users will be able to search for videos of a particular location, type, or theme and will have the ability to interact with the HD video feed. You’ll be able to zoom in and out, virtually steer the camera from side to side, rewind, and fast forward as you check out areas and things of interest on Earth.

UK based Rutherford Appleton Labs is building two high definition cameras. A medium resolution camera will provide a three colour image with a swath of 45 kilometers and a resolution of 5.5 meters. The high-resolution camera will offer a video image with a frame rate of 3.25 frames per second with a resolution that is comparable to much of Google Earth. All this will allow you to see man-made objects and groups of people. Yeah, a bit too good, eh?

UrtheCast tells us their website will feel like a blend of Google Earth with the video playback and search functionality of YouTube. The web platform will combine a consumer centric website, mobile application for smart phones, and an open Application Program Interface (API). The API enables third party developers to create their own applications and upload them to the UrtheCast web platform.

“Users will be able to view Earth from space. It will operate seamlessly with social media sites like Facebook and Twitter,” explains Scott Larson, President of UrtheCast.

That’s music to our ears and a sight for our eyes to behold. While we await its launch, we’ll have to make do with the promotional video above. Hurry. We want to BetheCast.



Forget static Google Earth: Welcome UrtheCast

It’s safe to say Google Earth revolutionised how we view ourselves and how we travel. And it’s just been kicked in the balls. Hard.

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Straight-Six had a proper job as a journalist for Dow Jones before lowering himself gently into the warm, forgiving waters of The Guide. He’s our resident fanatic: he relished detailing his BMW M3 for two full days at a time before crashing it at Eau Rouge in the wet; he spends insane amounts on his home-cinema system and has thrown tens of thousands of euros at vintage Rolex sports watches. The little fool simply does not understand the concept of restraint or the meaning of excess. He also – following a legendary "heavy" lunch – once nibbled (yes, like little dogs do) a dear lady friend of ours.

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  • Jeff

    This reminds me of a very well-intentioned, well-designed low budget program NASA had ready for the International Space Station before the Columbia disaster… unfortunately, the quick rescheduling of shuttle flights to finish Station construction bumped it from the roster, so as far as I know it is now sitting mothballed in a warehouse somewhere in Cocoa, probably forever.

    The “WORF” or “Window Operational Research Facility” was a self-contained bridge that bolted over the nadir-facing optically-clear window that was already installed on the station, and allowed academic and scientific communities to mount damn near any camera or sensor to one of the best views of earth available anywhere in the universe. From sensitive spectrometers to off the shelf DSLRs, it would allow incredible earth science for dirt cheap (compared to launching your own spacecraft), and was aimed at opening up earth observation to groups who previously had to rely on proprietary satellite data.

    Great people were on that project, and they really had a vision for just what was possible when you take the biggest expense (launch and operations of a standalone craft) out of the picture (so to speak).

    I think the ISS itself is probably mankind’s greatest achievement… so it was very sad to see it hurried up and left somewhat unfinished due to the abrupt end of the Shuttle program, though it’s understandable considering all of the economic, political, and design limitations space science continually bounces against.

    Glad someone’s taken the idea and run with it… will be curious to see how this plays out-