Google has updated its popular desktop application Google Earth to version 5.2 which includes some enhanced functionality for both free and pro users. Both sets of users can now import data recorded from GPS receivers during outdoor activities and view them in Google Earth. Other new features launching today include an integrated Web browser to keep clicked links within the app, as well as new layers of data and tweaks to the Pro version.
"With the release of Google Earth 5.0, we added the ability to connect your GPS device directly to Google Earth and import your track," the company announced in a blog post today. "Now, with Google Earth 5.2, we've added the ability to view elevation, speed, and other data as a graph directly in Google Earth [...] If your GPS device records additional information such as heart rate or cadence, these will also be available to view in the graph. You can also see statistics such as total elevation, maximum slope, and average speed."
Adding GPS data to Google Earth is a fun and handy tool for individual users, but the real benefit is to the greater crowd of Google Earth fans. By collecting user data from hikes, bike rides, walks, runs or any other outdoor activity, Google will be able to create better maps that feature paths for these types of activities. If Google knows which way is most popular to get from Point A to Point B on a bike, they can serve that info up to people searching for directions on Google Maps.
This is similar to the way Open Street Map has collected user data to generate maps. The open source mapping project asks volunteers to send in GPS data collected from walking, biking or running around on city streets. By combining that data, Open Street Map can create highly detailed maps of city streets with much less effort than traditional mapping services.
Google says most GPS units will work, like Magellan or Garmin devices, but it is unclear whether smartphones, like an Android or iPhone device, can be used to gather data. Traditional GPS devices also collect information like elevation and speed which users can use to graph various sets of data in Google Earth.
In addition Google has embedded a full Web browser into Google Earth so users can explore the home pages of business they might discover in the application. Pro users also can view parcel, demographic and traffic layers, as well as take advantage of improved GIS importing, better overlay generation, and support for the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS).
If you'd like a different way to visualize potential hiking or biking trails, check out this Web-based tool that can graph out elevation change using the Google Maps API. Simply place two or more points on a map and the app will create a graph of the elevation between those points. This can be helpful to the outdoorsy types that want to see if the bike trail suggested by Google maps is leading them uphill or downhill.