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Google Nurseries

2010 November 30
by jsclark

3D trees in "San Francisco, California"

Interesting move by Google posted in their official blog today: Google Earth v. 6 will now include a large library that facilitates the planting of virtual trees in their parallel metaverse. The blog says this has been underway for some time, actually, but there just haven’t been that many good sources of tree models. Google now claims to have “planted” over 80 million trees in G-Earth and is partnering with several environmental NGOs to help spread the word about threatened rainforests.

I haven’t had a chance to download Google Earth 6 to take a close look at these rendered plants. I’d like to compare them with the systems used to depict plants in Second Life, which come in several flavors–chiefly the three intersecting planes model introduced by Eric Call (from pioneering work by Honjo, Lim & Neruta), and a more recent “true” three-dimensional kind using sculpted prims. SL’s developers recognized early on the importance of plant life to making virtual scenes look and feel naturalistic, and in the broader arena of landscape planning there has been a continual development of virtual vegetation that balances rendering speed with both aesthetic appeal and biological accuracy.

So what I’m curious about is how plants are being used in Google Earth and what the new v6 libraries will do to virtual landscaping. Will the trees promote environmental learning, or just serve as decor? Will they be used in culture-jamming ways, perhaps by adding a layer that shows what might have happened if that shopping mall or amusement park was never built? Will they be employed to make places look more “treeful” than they are in real life? Should be an interesting exploration.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Steve Rust permalink*
    November 30, 2010

    Very thoughtful investigation. I’d love to see Google to commit to finding a sustainable energy source for the power it will take for its servers to render all these trees.

  2. Salma permalink*
    November 30, 2010

    for a preliminary answer, I googled(!) and yahooed “google and energy use” to find some interesting real world initiatives, such as advertised on their own website (, which has some comparative data that seems to paint Google servers in a good light, at least with carbon emissions. I can’t help noticing how the website differentiates its server use from personal computer use, as if a query can be conducted with only one or the other. I can’t remember if I posted this link before but the Times responded to the Google website a while ago:

    Those two searches took me a bit of time, so I’m inclined to agree with the The Times; Google seems to be presenting a skewed response. Googreenwashing?

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