Who Invented Google Earth?
Who Invented Google Earth?
Although Google Earth is one of the Internet search giant's most prominent products, it might surprise you to learn that Google didn't actually invent the technology behind it. That honor goes to another Silicon Valley company that was partly funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Yes, that's right. America's spy agency helped to create one of the world's most popular free mapping programs.
Keyhole, Inc., invented the predecessor to Google Earth in 2001. A pioneering software company in Mountain View, Calif., the firm specialized in an emerging field called geospatial data visualization applications, with a specific focus on mapping.
Keyhole, which was named after a series of American military spy satellites, developed a series of application suites, the most prominent being EarthViewer, which later was expanded into Google Earth. The company also developed EarthStream, which was a product for car navigation.
The key to EarthViewer was the use of images obtained by satellites and aerial photography as well as GIS 3D globes. When superimposed on each other, they formed a detailed mapping program.
Funding for the company came from NVIDIA, a Sony venture capital fund, angel investor Brian McClendon, and In-Q-Tel, which is a venture-capital arm of the CIA. Major customers included the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. Other clients included real estate companies, urban planners, state governments, intelligence agencies, and homeland security agencies.
Keyhole remained a small company through its first two years of existence. The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 created a great demand for EarthViewer imagery from ABC, NBC, CNN, and other news networks. Journalists used EarthViewer to produce 3-D flyby imagery in covering the war.
Google purchased Keyhole in 2004 and began the process of upgrading and improving EarthViewer. The company re-branded the product as Google Earth and released it on June 28, 2005. It was an immediate hit whose popularity has continued to grow. By the end of 2011, Google Earth had been downloaded more than a billion times.
Google Earth inspired the Google Moon and Google Mars programs. Google also incorporated Keyhole’s EarthViewer technology into its popular Google Maps and Google Mobile programs which millions of people use every day.
Over the years, Google Earth has been enhanced significantly, including the addition of street view pictures and ocean imagery. There are now two version of the application, Google Earth and Google Earth Pro. Google Earth is a free application. Google Earth Pro is a more advanced program with additional capabilities that is marketed to commercial users.
For their achievements, the founders of Keyhole were awarded the Geological Society of America's prestigious President's Medal in 2010. The company's founders include John Hanke, Chikai Ohazama, Mark Aubin, Phil Keslin, and Avi Bar-Zeev. Advisory founders include Brian McClendon, Michael Jones, Chris Tanner, and Rémi Arnaud.