For years, I have joked that satellite imagery is improving so quickly that you will soon be able to use your home computer to read the inscriptions on distant tombstones photographed from outer space. The technology hasn't yet advanced that far, but a new offering from Google Earth was released this week that shows just how close we are to that goal.
Google released some very high-resolution (3 inches/pixel) imagery for a part of Las Vegas. I was able to read advertisements on the sides of buildings and to pick out BMW Mini automobiles on the streets. I was even able to see individuals walking along the sidewalk and determine which were men and which were women, although in Las Vegas you can never be 100% certain. By looking at their shadows, I could even roughly estimate the height of each individual.
The airport is also captured in the high resolution, and I was able to pick out the aircraft type and see individual baggage handlers at work. I was also able to see individual swimmers in hotel pools although the technology has not yet advanced to the point where you can see the amount of bikini coverage.
According to Google, the images were taken last month.
So far, these super high-resolution images only are available for Las Vegas. However, it is only a matter of time until similar images of the entire country or even the world become available. You will be able to closely examine today's remnants of great-great-grandfather's homestead, the roads he blazed, and much more.
If you haven't yet seen Google Earth, you really need to look at this very impressive service. Best of all, it is available free of charge. You will need to download a special viewer for your Windows or Macintosh system. To see what is possible today, go to http://earth.google.com.