How Google Earth helped a missing Indian boy find his family after 25 years
The old version of the virtual globe application has been gaining popularity in recent months thanks to an unlikely source - an Oscar-nominated film.
Even as Google launches a revamped version of Google Earth, the old version of the virtual globe application has been gaining popularity in recent months thanks to an unlikely source - an Oscar-nominated film.
Lion, released in 2016, tells the real-life story of Saroo Brierley, an Indian boy who went missing and found his family 25 years later by using Google Earth.
Saroo was born in an impoverished village in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh and was raised by his mother and elder mother. As a six-year-old in the mid-80s, he was separated from his brother on a train and landed up in faraway Calcutta. He only knew the name of his village - Ganeshtalay - and with the technology of today only a dream at that time, he had no way of finding his home.
After narrowly escaping being kidnapped and exploited by child traffickers, he was sent to an orphanage in Calcutta. Following a torrid spell there, Saroo was told that an Australian couple wanted to adopt him. He was flown to Hobart and has lived with the Brierley family ever since.
Two decades on, his urge to find his first home grew stronger and he discovered Google Earth. Over the next couple of years, he painstakingly pored over the satellite images and drew on memories of the past to zero in on his village. Finally, he spotted the familiar ponds and fields of his village and flew to India for an emotional reunion with his mother.
Brierley recollected his journey in his book A Long Way Home, which was later turned into film Lion. It was nominated for six Oscars this year including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Dev Patel.
When Google Earth first came out in 2005, it gained massive popularity as it allowed users to zoom in on any part of the globe and was downloaded over a billion times. In the years since Brierley used Google Earth to trace his home, it has been overtaken by advanced software such as Google Street View, which provides panoramic street-level views and allows users to view parts of selected cities at ground level.
The new version of Google Earth announced on Tuesday offers to take users on a realistic voyage of sites and scenes throughout the world, and the virtual reality feature provides an immersive experience.While the original version helped a missing child find his home, perhaps Google Earth's new avatar will help prevent kids from going missing in the first place.