Google Maps now lets you go back in time

Google Maps now lets you go back in time
Track the construction of Marina Bay Sands Resort using the new Street View feature in Google Maps on your desktop or laptop. The mobile version is not available yet.

Time travel is now possible. A new Street View feature in Google Maps lets you see how a place has changed over the years.

Google's archives of past Street View images, along with the most current version, are now available.

Fire up a Web browser on your computer and use Google Maps to track the construction of local landmarks such as the Marina Bay Sands Resort.

This "time machine" is available in 55 countries. Alas, the earliest images go back only as far as 2007. That was when Google began to use car-mounted cameras to take Street View images of buildings and neighbourhoods.

Places for which images from the past are available will be identified by a small clock icon at the upper left-hand corner in Street View.

Click on the icon to bring up a slider that lets you move through time. As the images are shot at varying times of the year, users also get a sense of how places look in different seasons.

Depending on the location, the interval between images varies from a month to a year. Google says it has more past images of Hong Kong, Singapore and other heavily urbanised areas than of the countryside.

Google has published images from the past before. Google Earth has a similar historical imagery feature, but with aerial views from satellite images. This is what Google Map users ask for most often.

Although this is being rolled out to users only now, Google had something very similar back in 2011 with the Memories For The Future website.

Google created the Web archive to show viewers Street Views of certain parts of Japan before and after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

That website was said to be the inspiration, according to Mr Keiichi Kawai, whose hometown of Sendai was badly hit. He leads Google's Street View efforts.

While the website captured the devastation, the new feature lets you follow the reconstruction process. Google says the Japanese port town of Onagawa is one place where you will notice, simply by comparing past and present Street View images, that the earthquake shifted the ground sideways by 3m.

The feature is not yet available on the mobile version of Maps, which is still being worked on. Until it is ready, you will have to do your time travel from your desktop or laptop.

This article was published on April 30 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.

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