Google's 20% time policy, source of untold obscure Linux drivers, single-use utilities and ridiculous Gmail features, occasionally spawns something truly amazing—like the eight-screened Liquid Galaxy, which lets you step inside of Google Earth. It's Google Earth: The Ride.
Liquid Galaxy is an outgrowth of an older project called Street View Holodeck, which grabbed Street View imagery from all angles to simulate the effect of driving down the road, albeit twitchily, as if you were slightly dosed on some kind of low-grade hallucinogen. Liquid Galaxy takes the same hardware—a rack of anywhere from four to eight HDTVs, mounted vertically—connected to a bay of computers, and lets you fly.
What's the experience like? You'll have to ask a Google's Jason Holt, one of the few people to man the controls of this not-quite-a-flight-simulator, uh, thing:
The effect was pretty stunning: all of a sudden, flying around in Google Earth really felt like flying, and exploring the ocean trenches was like piloting a submarine. When you splashed through the sea surface you cringed slightly, expecting to get wet. You could even command your own lander down to the Moon or Mars. It was amazing to all of us how much more impressive Google Earth felt when we were surrounded by screens and able to turn our heads to look around (and even walk around). It felt more like a ride than a computer program, something between an observation-deck and a glass-walled spaceship.
Sadly, the only way to try one of these things is to catch it while it's on the road, at a selection of trade shows that you aren't invited to. That said, if you were planning on going to the American Geophysical Union Conference later this month anyway, don't forget the dramamine. Or the beer. [Google]