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Austin, Tex., will become the second city to get Google Fiber, the gigabit-speed fiber-optic Internet service.
World Resources Institute
April 20, 2012
-- After Google released Google Earth in 2005, outreach manager Rebecca Moore considered how the virtual globe, map and geographical information could be used to make the planet a better place. Her idea crystallized into Google Earth Outreach and became formalized in 2007. The outreach project awards grants to nonprofits and public benefit organizations to tell their stories using Google Earth and Google Maps. Since then, more than 2,000 organizations have received funds from the program. In recent years, upwards of $300,000 was awarded to a number of recipients, including those that combine crowd-sourcing and mapping technology to help the world. Here’s a tour of 10 Google Earth Outreach projects:
Amazonas Sustainable Foundation
Street View for the Amazon Google Street View lets viewers jump right into their destinations by showing the surroundings from the asphalt to the sky. In 2009, the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation, an organization dedicated to environmental conservation and improving the lives of people in protected areas of the Amazon, approached Google Earth Outreach about creating a "river view" and "forest view" for the area. That way people around the world could see what needed to be protected for themselves. Last year, Google Earth Outreach and Google Street View teams met with the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation at the Rio Negro Reserve. They used a rugged trike outfitted with the Street View camera, strapping the trike to a boat for river views and then pedaling it through local communities for "street" views. Last month, more than 2,000 images showing 360-degree views from the collaboration were unveiled in Google Maps here.
World Resources Institute
Reefs at Risk Coral reefs aren't just a pretty tourist attraction. They're also home to nearly a quarter of all marine species and crucial to fish populations. The majority of these undersea habitats are being threatened by destructive fishing practices, coastal development, pollution, and changing environmental conditions. The World Resources Institute, a global environmental think tank, has been using geographic information system models since 1998 to map global coral reef threats. They recently received a Google Earth Outreach developer grant to take their knowledge base to the next level. By combining detailed data sets, maps and reports with Google Earth technology, WRI was able to bring reefs at risk to life, showing them region-by-region worldwide. Dynamic global maps are part of the Reefs at Risk Revisited project. Taking the virtual tour of the reefs around the world brings threats to these hidden underwater homes to light.
Coal Mining Exposed When 10,000 acres of a mountaintop is exploded into rubble in order to mine coal, the scale of destruction might not resonate with the average person. So the organizations Appalachian Voices and the Alliance of Appalachia turned to Google Earth. For their project, National Memorial for the Mountains, the group superimposes mining sites onto satellites maps of U.S. cities. In this example, the Hobet mining complex in West Virginia is shown as a red imprint that covers most of Manhattan. From the air, scarred landscapes like this are unforgettable. Google Earth users can get a similar experience by seeing before and after overlays as well as interactive maps of mine sites." Mountaintop removal uses explosives to access coal deposits, avoiding the need for underground workers while accelerating the mining process. It's irreversible, fills streams and valleys with rubble, pollutes water sources, and has been linked to health problems in local communities, according to Appalachian Voices. About 4 percent of the nation's energy comes from this coal, a figure the organization says could be replaced by renewable energy.
Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire
Tracking Sea Turtle Migration Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting endangered sea turtles, wanted to get local students on the Caribbean island more involved in understanding nesting and migration. The group outfitted a local female Hawksbill sea turtle named Jklynn with a satellite transmitter for her annual migration. With a hand from Google Maps technology, the students could see Jklynn's path. The organization also created a game called the Great Migration. The object of the game was to predict where the sea turtle would return after nesting on the island. The winner, Keval Bissessar, came within about 22 miles of Jklynn's actual destination -- pretty good considering that previously tracked sea turtles have gone all over the Caribbean -- and won a new smartphone and a year's worth of service.
Atlantic Public Media and the Encyclopedia of
Cataloging Life How can we save what we've never heard of? The organization Encyclopedia of Life or EOL seeks aims to gather, generate and share knowledge about all life on Earth in an open, free and trustworthy digital repository. Working with Atlantic Public Media, EOL created a series called "One Species At a Time" to introduce us to unique species on land and in the sea. Each episode is a Google Earth tour. One that features hardy birds called Arctic terns shows their annual migration from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Greenland Institute of Natural Resources researcher Carsten Egevang described the challenging process of tagging the birds with tiny trackers, braving harsh weather and pecks to the head. Egevang tracked the birds as they made their way south, with some taking very different routes along continental coastlines. The distance is so great that each of the small terns will fly what amounts to three round trips to the Moon in its lifetime.
Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging
Irresponsible Logging When Google Earth outreach manager Rebecca Moore and her neighbors in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California received a black and white map showing a logging plan in 2005, many were confused. The San Jose Water Company's plan was to log more than 1,000 acres around the highway, arguing that would reduce the fire risk around watershed areas. Moore, a member of the community group Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging or NAIL, decided to create a realistic visualization in Google Earth. She used digital data from the county planning department and more than 700 photos taken from a helicopter flight over the area. Moore's virtual flyover showed the proposed logging plan in red, highlighting old-growth trees that would be cut as well as the logging operation's proximity to specific schools, playgrounds and communities. When residents saw Moore's presentation, the plan started receiving intense scrutiny and Al Gore even weighed in against it. In 2007, the California Department of Forestry ruled the logging application "ineligible," marking victory for NAIL. Since then, Google Earth has been used similarly in other forest preservation campaigns.
The United Nations Environment Programme
Environmental Hot Spots Hearing about an enormous that's in danger of drying up is one thing. Watching its deep green edges recede decade by decade in Google Earth is another. Years of diversion for irrigation caused the Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to go from being one of the world's largest lakes to being called one of the planet's worst environmental disasters by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The United Nations Environment Program or UNEP monitors environmental hot spots like the Aral Sea and publishes an Atlas with time-sequence satellite photos showing drastic changes to those areas. Suddenly abstractions became pressing and clear to readers. UNEP calls its "Atlas of Our Changing Environment" the program's most profitable publication ever. In partnership with Google Earth, UNEP has added its extensive library of atlas photos to more than 100 sites worldwide. Since then, the Atlas has become one of the most popular features in the Google application. "These satellite pictures are a wake-up call to all of us," UNEP executive director Achim Steiner told the public when the partnership first formed.
Save the Elephants
Saving Elephants Trading ivory has been banned but the high price and lure of elephant tusks makes the animals a constant target. To stay ahead of poachers, the nonprofit group Save the Elephants outfits elephants in Kenya with GPS collars that track their movements. "We've been using Google Earth to as a very easy way to find out what our elephants are up to and where they're going," Save the Elephants founder Ian Douglas-Hamilton said in a video about the organization's use of the mapping technology. With the collars and maps, they can see the elephants moving in real time against high-definition satellite images. When one of the tracked elephants stops moving, the organization sends a Google Earth file to the Kenya Wildlife Service so they can investigate. Tracking the elephants has also illuminated their migration movements, and led to the construction of an overpass to let them pass safely from one area in the country to another.
Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
Restoring Parks Crissy Field, a large and flat public park in San Francisco, affords a panoramic view of the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the hilly Marin Headlands behind it. Before the field became an iconic grassy stretch for bikers, joggers and visitors, this area was unrecognizable. For the 10-year anniversary of Crissy Field's restoration, the nonprofit Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy created a tour in Google Earth showing how the urban park reached its current accessible state. Originally a tidal marsh, the area was filled in for auto racing in 1915 and then used as an airfield until 1936. The field slowly fell into disuse and became a local dumping ground. In 1972, the U.S. National Park Service took over the tire- and waste-strewn stretch. Following an effort led by the Conservancy and the Park Service that involved numerous volunteer hours and removing tons of hazardous materials, Crissy Field re-opened to the public in 2001. To celebrate this achievement, virtual visitors can take a Google Earth tour.
The Nature Conservancy
Adopt a Prairie Nearly 30 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, west of Galveston, a coastal prairie in Texas has become living history. Unplowed and largely unaltered by humans, Nash Prairie encompasses 400 acres of pristine land. Hundreds of plants, including a type of grass thought to have gone extinct, and more than 100 bird species flourish here. Millions of acres just like this used to exist from Texas to Louisiana, but they are long gone. Preserved first by socialite-turned-rancher Kittie Nash Groce and then by neighboring St. Mary's Episcopal Church in West Columbia, Tex., the prairie is now being bought by the Nature Conservancy to continue protecting it. The organization's Adopt an Acre program offers the public a way to help save the land. In exchange for a $50 donation, an acre in Nash Prairie is preserved in that person's name or a name of their choosing. Through Google Earth, conservationists can zoom into the area to learn about each acre and even meet donor "neighbors." Pick your own here.
Google announced that Austin, Tex., will become the second city to get its gigabit-speed fiber-optic Internet service, Google Fiber, with connections starting in mid 2014. (Kansas City, the first recipient, already has service.)
Aside from faster movie downloads, what will Austin residents do with all that bandwidth? Entrepreneurs and tinkerers already have ideas.
Ryan Brown, an electrical engineer and organizer of the Austin Hardware Startup Meetup, imagines collaborating on gadget designs with people hundreds or thousands of miles away.
"Developing hardware is bandwidth-intensive," Brown said. "You've got schematics, layouts, industrial designs, mechanical designs, thermal simulations … and things like that can be painful to share online." With gigabit speeds, Austin engineers could trade and tweak designs in real time with collaborators around the world, such as factories in China, Brown said.
In fact, it will make it easier to use tools for designing and testing products entirely in the cloud, leveraging heavy-duty online computers to do the intensive number-crunching to predict how a product will function long before it's built. [See video of how Kansas City has been using Google Fiber]
But even within Austin, the bandwidth will make a difference, said Kyle Cox of the Austin Technology Incubator at the University of Texas. The university is collaborating on a project called Pecan Street that is testing cutting-edge energy technologies in an experimental home and a smart grid-equipped neighborhood. "There are terabytes of data being created that need to be crunched and analyzed," he said. That crunching happens on a University of Texas supercomputer, and moving the bits faster across town will make a difference. [See also: 100 Gbps Speed Coming to U.S. Research Network]
One example of what the analysis found: Contrary to popular wisdom, solar panels are most efficient not when facing due south but rather slightly south by southwest (a fitting scientific discovery for a city that hosts a festival by the same name).
Cox described another Austin company, Cyfeon Solutions, that is trying to make smarter stock trades by processing huge amounts of data — including individual trades, blog posts and tweets and other social media that can affect the stock market. "Those things are going to enable answers to real-time questions more quickly." Cyfeon also has a division using the same technology to analyze telecommunication performance to help telecom companies improve service.
But Google Fiber won't just fuel international projects, said Cox. Some of his member companies will use it to make customer service better by offering video conferencing tech support instead of just email or online chat.
"Right now, I think there will be an occasional Skype customer service interaction, in an extreme case," said Cox.
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