PITTSBURG — World history and world geography students at Pittsburg High School got a special treat Friday when they received a presentation from Google Earth Co-Founder Brian McClendon.
McClendon currently works as a research professor at the University of Kansas — his alma mater — and formerly served as Google’s vice president of engineering. Google bought his startup company, Keyhole, in 2004, which served as the groundwork for Google Earth. Friday, McClendon spoke to PHS students about the beginnings of Google Earth and current innovations in technology as it relates to world geography.
“I very interested in graphics when I was younger — with video games like Pac Man,” McClendon said. “So working with computers I really liked pictures and pixels when computers were still mostly text.”
The love for graphics and imaging led McClendon to build a digital globe using satellite and airplane imaging, which eventually became Google Earth.
McClendon told students about how Google Earth led to other programs like Google Maps and Streetview, and how those technologies have impacted the industry of driverless vehicles.
“With Streetview, drivers drive all over the world in the Google car which takes a picture about every three seconds, and those photos are used to show Streetview, as well as build more accurate maps,” McClendon said. “More accurate maps improve Google Maps and Earth, as well as creating the most accurate map for a self-driving car.”
Driverless vehicles need very accurate maps in order to operate safely, know when to turn, know where curbs and streetlights are and more. McClendon said driverless cars are already active in some large cities, and as the technology improves it will begin to pop up everywhere — even Pittsburg.
“Self-driving cars will probably be active in Pittsburg in seven to eight years,” he said. “In 20 years, human drivers will be the minority of drivers on the roads in urban areas, and in 30 years it may be illegal to drive because it will be too dangerous with the automated cars on the road.”
McClendon told students it is likely their children will never learn to drive.
Students asked many questions about driverless cars, and while it can be a scary idea, McClendon said when the technology is developed, roads will actually be safer as the computer will make better decisions than human drivers often do. He also discussed other benefits.
“There are three parking spaces for every car in the United States,” he said. “As ridesharing and driverless cars get more popular, that wasted land will be used for better things than parking lots.”
Google has mapped 200 countries — including North Korea — and has used information for more than showing people where to go. McClendon told students about how Google Earth was used to show the magnitude of the Darfur genocide in Africa.
PHS Freshman Emma Fischer said she found the presentation really interesting.
“I don’t know if I’d ever consider that type of thing as a career, but it’s really interesting,” Fischer said. “It’s really cool to meet someone who created Google Earth, especially in a smaller town like this.”
— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.