Field in View: Google Earth VR Gave Me The Trip Of A Lifetime Inside My Kitchen

by Jamie Feltham • November 19th, 2016

In between the 55 miles of water separating Russia and Alaska, there sits a tiny island. Or rather, there are two tiny islands; Big Diomede and Little Diomede. Though one is larger, they’re both minute plots of land, about 2 miles apart. A handful of people live on the smaller of the two, but the larger is now barren. When it’s cold enough for the water to freeze over, it’s possible to walk between the two.

But here’s the amazing thing: Big Diomede is Russia, Little Diomede is America.

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I’ve always been fascinated by this part of the world and it’s one of my dreams to one day stand at the top of Little Diomede and point out towards Russia. The idea excites me to no end. And yet it’s going to take some planning; I’m from the UK and getting to the smaller island requires taking a helicopter from the viyu of Nome to the one helipad. What with work, money and timing, I thought it was going to take a few years before I could go.

As it turns out, I went there yesterday.

The second I dived into Google Earth on the HTC Vive, I knew where I had to go. After marveling at the Welcome Tour (a must for any new user), I immediately grabbed the globe and pointed myself towards the Bering Strait. Turning on the human scale option, I found the highest point of Little Diomede, zoomed in, and just stood there. Sure enough, I could see its bigger brother off in the distance. I could see the miles of icy ocean surrounding me and the vague outline of mainland Alaska behind me. It was incredible.

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Of course, I wasn’t really there; the ground below me was blurred beyond recognition, I couldn’t hear the waves of the Bearing Sea brush up on shore, and I longed to feel the biting chill of the air on my face, but for standing in my kitchen and not travelling hundreds of miles it was more than good enough. It was one of the most amazing VR experiences I’ve had.

What’s incredible about Google Earth in VR is everyone has access to that spot in the world. I don’t mean that hilltop on Diomede, I mean that one place that can create a powerful emotional response in you just by being there. It’s a shame every inch of the world doesn’t have 3D modelling, though the gap will hopefully close as time goes on, but this is an incredible tool that you can put into the hands of just about anyone.

I can see myself using Google Earth a lot in the coming years. I want to check out my vacation destinations before I go, and then chart the paths I walked to friends when I’m back. I want to take relatives to places they never thought they’d see again, from angles that have never been possible before. I want to have my own digital globe of memories, sitting right there inside my headset.

We often talk about the VR killer app. Google Earth has a world of potential to be that.

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