What the Heck is Google Earth Doing to the Bridges of Our Fair Planet?

By Veronique Greenwood | April 14, 2011 9:17 am

Perusing Google Earth’s quilt of aerial images is good for hours of stalkerish fun (Find your house! Find your ex’s house!). But every now and then, Google’s geo toy can also bend the fabric of reality—literally:

Something’s wrong with this picture…

Get ready for a bumpy ride!

Artist and programmer Clement Valla has discovered 60 strange, beautiful scenes where Google Earth’s mapping has gone awry, as you may have seen in a post on Boing Boing. So what’s really happening in these pictures? Here’s Valla’s explanation:

The images are the result of mapping a 2-dimensional image onto a 3-dimensional surface. Basically, the satellite images are flat representations in which you only see the topmost object—in this case you see the bridge, and not the landmass or water below the bridge. However, the 3D models in Google Earth contain only the information for the terrain–the landmass or the bottom of the ocean.

When the flat image is projected onto this 3-dimensional surface, the bridges are projected down onto the terrain below the bridge. In other words, the bridge appears to follow the terrain that it actually goes over.

The view is further complicated by the shadows in the aerial images, which cue our brains to look for depth. When 2D images overlay nicely on the 3D terrain data, these cues help everything look normal. When they don’t…fascinating disaster ensues.

deception pass
This one just screams for roller-coaster sound effects: WheeeOOOOOAAAAAAaaaah!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
  • Dave

    Yeah, riding some of those roads could be pretty fun! I remember as a kid my father taking hills at just the right speed so you would float for a second or two, getting that funny feeling in the pit of your stomach! Imagine people taking some of those little hills at 80-100 MPH!

  • James

    That is the stupidest, melodramatic title I’ve ever heard.

  • Ramon

    I feel you Dave, my dad tried to kill me too.

  • jean

    Dave, my dad liked to do exactly that, too! We kids would egg him on, and Mother would just roll her eyes!!!! We didn’t miss the rollercoaster rides we couldn’t afford! In fact that 2 second thrill was better than any roller coaster ride I was ever on! I even used to do it for my kids, on the old hilly paved back roads – back in the “old days”! Too bad it’s only possible on the old roads, and there are fewer and fewer that are kept in good enough repair to be safe, even when there’s no traffic . . .

  • http://www.fajasshapewear5.co.cc fajas colombianas

    That last picture would be awesome if that were a real bridge.

  • Daniel


  • Peki

    @Dave, Ramon, and Jean: Yup, same here. There’s a really nasty dip in a street near where I live. My mom used to get her Toyota Tercel airborne on it, much to my delight. I loved it! They’ve paved that dip over a few times so it’s a little smother, but I’m sure it’ll be good again when we get another earthquake (SoCal).

  • fintin

    Awesome. Just really awesome.

  • http://www.com boberola

    wow! so cool!

  • http://www.mattschaller.com Matt

    Very Sim-City like.

  • uhh….

    Even though I respect your idea of creative writing and such… this was boring and completely lacking any substance.

    There are classes in community colleges that offer basic fundamentals of writing. I sincerely recommend you take one of these workshops/classes!

    Please don’t be discouraged. Even though your pictures and writing are less than reasonable, it doesn’t mean that you will not grow quite quickly.

    I hope that I have the opportunity to see your name on the cover of a paperback one day very soon!

    • http://discovermagazine.com/ DISCOVER magazine

      This is probably just spam. Notice the utter lack of specifics. 

      But sure, spambot. We’ll work on our “fundamentals of writing.” Maybe one day we could even get our name *on the cover of our own magazine*. Wouldn’t that be amazing…

  • Jon B

    Uhh………. don’t be such a pretentious twunt. Just because you are a humourless schmuck doesn’t mean you have to ruin it for everyone else that has a life.

  • scott

    Ditto Jon B.

  • Mel

    Uhh… Sounds like a fail troll. There really is nothing wrong with the article, it was short and sweet with an attention grabbing title for the more playful of us. Also, while I’m happy to say that everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, it’s better that at least it has some weight to it.

  • Jumblepudding

    Notice how this article was about bridges and it attracted trolls? How fairy tale like.Not sure how this raised the ire of the writing style police, other than the weird mixing of a down home idiom (What the heck) with the more romanticized “fair planet”. Anyway I found it fun and interesting.

  • Jason

    I as well found nothing wrong with this article.

    @Jumblepudding haha

  • Bob marley

    Why be hating when we be all bout the bling bling? google da rude boy!

  • Nelson

    Google is on a mission to convert Planet earth to another Disney World!!

  • Proximo

    Two Words: Texture Mapping!!

  • ana

    Sorry you got some obnoxious, rude people commenting. You didn’t deserve that. I guess now it’s, “if you can do, tear down someone else with anonymous flames.”  This is a fun article, and in case you didn’t know it, the pictures are turning up all over Pinterest.


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