Google mulls spicing up Google Maps Engine with Google Earth Engine imaging

Google (s goog) is looking into upgrading its Google Maps Engine with the large supply of satellite images available on Google Earth Engine, according to a company engineer. The move would enable businesses to perform comparative mapping analytics and show changes over time on the fly, without having to build out new infrastructure.

After giving a talk about Google Earth Engine at the Strata conference in Santa Clara, Calif., on Thursday, Louis Perrochon, a Google engineering director, said engineers are working on the project, although there is no planned release date and it’s quite possible such capabilities are never released. A Google spokesman said he could not confirm the plans or provide a timeline for implementation.

Every day Google downloads terabytes of satellite images from the U.S. Geological Survey and maintains the files on spinning disks in data centers. With so much data, Google Earth Engine “allows you to do a lot more fancy stuff” than Google Maps Engine, Perrochon said during his talk. He demonstrated his point by using Google Earth Engine to show which San Francisco parks lie closest to BART stations, which parks are new to the city and which parts of the Sahara desert had gotten new roads.

The Google Earth Engine data sets, which span more than 25 years, have been available to researchers for a few years now. One use case is for a government to locate areas of deforestation and conduct investigations. As Perrochon demonstrated during his talk, users can quickly see where some areas have gotten new vegetation and other areas have been stripped of their trees.

It might sound obvious, but because Google has so many data sets, Google Earth Engine can also do things like offer maps devoid of clouds and lines on satellite images. To get a sense of the cloud problem, try zooming in on Northern Ireland. With Google Earth Engine data sets, users can quickly cycle through images from many days.

Plenty of enterprises could benefit from having heaps of satellite images available for fast analysis on the web, as opposed to Google Earth. (Take media outlets, for starters.) If Google does roll out the expanded data sets to Google Maps Engine, it might cost enterprises less to get and analyze the data themselves. And it could once again demonstrate that Google Maps is well ahead of competitive efforts to map the planet and give people easy ways to access that data.