Latest from the Google Lab

Over the last couple of weeks, lots of apps have debuted on Google Labs, a laboratory where our more adventurous users can try our experimental products and offer feedback directly to the engineers who developed them. Teams at Google are gearing up to deliver more and more cool innovations to users, and this month alone, we’ve launched six new products on Google Labs. Here are the highlights of our recent releases.

App Inventor for Android
App Inventor for Android makes it easier for people to access the capabilities of their Android phones and create apps for their personal use. Until now, it was only available to a group of people who requested and received invitations. Last week, we announced that App Inventor (beta) is now available to anyone with a Google account. Visit the App Inventor homepage to get set up and start building your own Android app—and be sure to share your App Inventor story on the App Inventor user forum!

Body Browser
Body Browser is a demo app that allows you to visualize complex 3D graphics of the human body. It works in the latest beta version of Google Chrome and uses WebGL, a new standard that enables 3D experiences in the web browser without any plug-ins. Using Body Browser, you can explore different layers of human anatomy by moving the slider to rotate and zoom in on parts you are interested in. Not sure where something is? Try the search box. You can also share the exact scene you’re viewing by copying and pasting the corresponding URL.


DataWiki
DataWiki is a wiki for structured data, extending the idea of a normal wiki to make it easy to create, edit, share and visualize structured data, and to interlink data formats to make them more understandable and useful. The project is inspired by the need to create customized data formats for crisis response, for example to quickly create a person-finder application after an earthquake, or share Internet and cellular phone connectivity maps from an affected area. DataWiki operates as a RESTful web-service, is built on AppEngine and is completely open source.


Google Books Ngram Viewer
Google Books Ngram Viewer graphs and compares the historical usage of phrases based on the datasets comprised of more than 500 billion words and their associated volumes over time in about 5.2 million books. Last week, we released this visualization tool along with freely-downloadable phrase frequency datasets to help humanities research. You can find interesting example queries (e.g., “tofu” vs. “hot dog”) and more information about the effort in our blog post.


Google Earth Engine
Google Earth Engine, which we announced at the U.N. Climate Change Conference Cancun earlier this month, is a technology platform that enables scientists to do global-scale observation and measurement of changes in the earth’s environment. It provides an unprecedented amount of satellite imagery and data online for the first time, as well as our extensive computing infrastructure—the Google “cloud”—to analyze the imagery. We’re excited about the initial use of Google Earth Engine to support efforts to stop global deforestation, but the platform can be used for a wide range of applications, from mapping water resources to ecosystem services. It’s part of our broader effort at Google to build a more sustainable future.

Google Shared Spaces
Google Shared Spaces is an easy way for you to share mini-collaborative applications, like scheduling tools or games, with your friends or colleagues. By creating a Shared Space, you can share a gadget with whomever you want by simply sending the URL. Once your friends join the Shared Space, you can collaborate with them in real-time on the gadget, and you can chat with them, too. This product is built on some of the technology used in Google Wave.


Those experimental products have been developed by many teams across Google. Some products were born in 20% time, and some were built by start-up-like teams inside the company. But all of these products were created by passionate, small teams just because they cared about them so much.

You can find more Labs products on googlelabs.com. Please play with them and give us feedback. And stay tuned for experiments coming in the future.

Posted by Riku Inoue, Product Manager, Google Labs Permalink

Introducing Google Earth Engine

Today, Google launched a new Google Labs product called Google Earth Engine at the International Climate Change Conference in sunny Cancun, Mexico. Google Earth Engine is a new technology platform that puts an unprecedented amount of satellite imagery and data—current and historical—online for the first time. It enables global-scale monitoring and measurement of changes in the earth’s environment. The platform will enable scientists to use our extensive computing infrastructure—the Google “cloud”—to analyze this imagery. Last year, we demonstrated an early prototype. Since then, we have developed the platform, and are excited now to offer scientists around the world access to Earth Engine to implement their applications.

Why is this important? The images of our planet from space contain a wealth of information, ready to be extracted and applied to many societal challenges. Scientific analysis can transform these images from a mere set of pixels into useful information—such as the locations and extent of global forests, detecting how our forests are changing over time, directing resources for disaster response or water resource mapping.

The challenge has been to cope with the massive scale of satellite imagery archives, and the computational resources required for their analysis. As a result, many of these images have never been seen, much less analyzed. Now, scientists will be able to build applications to mine this treasure trove of data on Google Earth Engine, providing several advantages:

  • Landsat satellite data archives over the last 25 years for most of the developing world available online, ready to be used together with other datasets including MODIS. And we will soon offer a complete global archive of Landsat.
  • Reduced time to do analyses, using Google’s computing infrastructure. By running analyses across thousands of computers, for example, unthinkable tasks are now possible for the first time.
  • New features that will make analysis easier, such as tools that pre-process the images to remove clouds and haze.
  • Collaboration and standardization by creating a common platform for global data analysis.

Google Earth Engine can be used for a wide range of applications—from mapping water resources to ecosystem services to deforestation. It’s part of our broader effort at Google to build a more sustainable future. We’re particularly excited about an initial use of Google Earth Engine to support development of systems to monitor, report and verify (MRV) efforts to stop global deforestation.

Deforestation releases a significant amount of carbon into the atmosphere, accounting for 12-18% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. The world loses 32 million acres of tropical forests every year, an area the size of Greece. The United Nations has proposed a framework known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) that would provide financial incentives to tropical nations to protect their forests. Reaching an agreement on early development of REDD is a key agenda item here in Cancun.

Today, we announced that we are donating 10 million CPU-hours a year over the next two years on the Google Earth Engine platform, to strengthen the capacity of developing world nations to track the state of their forests, in preparation for REDD. For the least developed nations, Google Earth Engine will provide critical access to terabytes of data, a growing set of analytical tools and our high-performance processing capabilities. We believe Google Earth Engine will bring transparency and more certainty to global efforts to stop deforestation.

Over the past two years, we’ve been working with several top scientists to fully develop this platform and integrate their desktop software to work online with the data available in Google Earth Engine. Those scientists—Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Carlos Souza of Imazon and Matt Hansen of the Geographic Information Science Center at South Dakota State University—are at the cutting edge of forest monitoring in support of climate science.

In collaboration with Matt Hansen and CONAFOR, Mexico’s National Forestry Commission, we’ve produced a forest cover and water map of Mexico. This is the finest-scale forest map produced of Mexico to date. The map required 15,000 hours of computation, but was completed in less than a day on Google Earth Engine, using 1,000 computers over more than 53,000 Landsat scenes (1984-2010). CONAFOR provided National Forest Inventory ground-sampled data to calibrate and validate the algorithm.

A forest cover and water map of Mexico (southern portion, including the Yucatan peninsula), produced in collaboration with scientist Matthew Hansen and CONAFOR.

We hope that Google Earth Engine will be an important tool to help institutions around the world manage forests more wisely. As we fully develop the platform, we hope more scientists will use new Earth Engine API to integrate their applications online—for deforestation, disease mitigation, disaster response, water resource mapping and other beneficial uses. If you’re interested in partnering with us, we want to hear from you—visit our website! We look forward to seeing what’s possible when scientists, governments, NGO’s, universities, and others gain access to data and computing resources to collaborate online to help protect the earth’s environment.

Posted by Rebecca Moore