We are one step closer to a Google Earth VR for standalone headsets
Developers now have access to Google Earth's 3D maps. This means we could get a Google Earth VR-like app for standalone VR headsets.
At its Google I/O 2023 developer conference, the company released a new experimental feature: Photorealistic 3D tiles allow developers to use the impressive 3D maps of Google Earth for the first time in their own apps.
"Building 3D models of the world is labor and resource intensive. [... ] Photorealistic 3D Tiles takes this work off your plate with one of the world’s most comprehensive 3D geo datasets, while allowing you to use the renderer of your choice and overlay your own data,"Google writes on its blog. "This new geodata product offers a seamless 3D mesh model of the real-world, textured with our high-res RGB optical imagery, and uses the same 3D map source as Google Earth."
Wooorld to implement the new feature
There is already a VR app for Meta Quest 2 called Wooorld that is close to Google Earth VR. I reviewed Wooorld last fall and found that it used the inferior Bing maps instead of the 3D maps from Google Earth. Back then, it also lacked many 3D cities, including major European cites like London and Paris.
Thanks to Google's API initiative, this is about to change. Developers have already announced that they want to implement the interface and add another 2,500 3D cities to Wooorld. When exactly is not yet known.
To all you Wooorld explorers who have been asking us
🙋♀️ "Are Google 3D cities coming to Wooorld?"
📢YES indeed! 💫 2,500 additional 3D cities are on their way to Wooorld! 🚀 Follow @wooorldXR for updates !
— 𝗪𝗼𝗼𝗼𝗿𝗹𝗱 - Available NOW! (@wooorldXR) May 22, 2023
In addition to the availability of this 3D data, there are other factors that are critical to a Google Earth VR-like VR experience: how detailed the geometry is rendered, and how you navigate through the virtual duplicate of the world.
As I noted in my review, Wooorld cuts corners on both counts: The VR app only renders slices of the world, and it's also more complicated to use than Google Earth VR.
Google Earth VR clones could be on the way
Thanks to Photorealistic 3D Tiles, the implementation of the impressive 3D maps is now open to all developers. Chances are good that we will see more standalone apps mimicking the functionality of Google Earth VR, whether for Meta Quest, Pico, or other standalone headsets.
Who knows, Google could even develop such an app itself, especially since the company is working with Samsung on a standalone MR headset. A standalone Google Earth VR could be a killer app for the device.
The iconic PC VR version has unfortunately not been maintained for years, but it is still one of the best VR applications, virtual reality has to offer.