Is Safety on Your Syllabus?

Three-and-a-half months ago, we joined with many of our safety partners to publicize the fact that summertime is a particularly deadly period for teens on the road. Longer trips, later nights, and relaxed attitudes can all contribute to a spike in teen driving – and crash risk – during this time. The National Organizations for Youth Safety, therefore, challenged all of us to have the summer of 2012 be the “Safest Summer Ever.” We sincerely hope that for you and your family and friends, it was.

Just because the summer is winding down, however, doesn’t mean it’s time to let safety slip off the radar screen. After all, motor vehicle crashes are the leading killer of young Americans – all year long. And with kids heading back to class and family routines crystallizing again, back-to-school time provides an excellent chance to promote safety within your family.

If you drive your kids to school, that time in the car is a perfect opportunity to model safe behaviors and attitudes for them. If they see you buckling up, putting away your cell phone and other distracting items, slowing and stopping properly for school buses, and using extra caution at crosswalks, they’ll have an implicit understanding of the importance of such actions. It’s never too early to start building awareness of the responsibilities that come with being a driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist.

Promoting safety in the hours after school lets out is crucial, as well, as this is one of the deadliest times of day for teens. All too often, teens pile into cars with their friends, and the results can be deadly. AAA Foundation research has shown that the risk of teens being killed in a crash skyrockets when passengers are present, and that despite laws in most states restricting newly-licensed teens from driving with their peers, roughly 40 percent of teen drivers killed in crashes were carrying passengers. This is a good time of year, therefore, to talk with teens about the importance of obeying passenger restrictions, and to make sure alternative transportation options to sporting events, jobs, and other activities are available.

AAA and the AAA Foundation have long been engaged in addressing school- and child-related traffic safety concerns. The AAA School Safety Patrol program has turned generations of children – including Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton – into traffic safety leaders at their schools. Participating students take on the responsibility of helping move traffic and pedestrians safely and efficiently through school zones, and volunteers have saved nearly 400 lives in the program’s history. Additionally, the AAA Foundation offers a variety of instructional materials related to school safety, including videos on crossing guard training and school bus safety.

Safety may not officially be on the syllabus for your students this year, but we hope it will be taught and promoted all the same. By working together, we can make sure kids of all ages are able to come to school ready and able to learn, because they are safe.

Half a gigameter of biking navigation in 12 countries in Google Maps for Android

Whether you’re a seasoned century rider or a casual beach cruiser, finding the best biking routes can be a challenge. That’s why today we’re bringing mobile biking directions and navigation to the 10 countries where we launched desktop biking directions last month (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK). Plus, we’re adding turn-by-turn, voice-guided biking navigation to Google Maps Navigation (beta) in every country with biking directions. Mount your device on your handlebars to see the turn-by-turn directions and navigation, or use speaker-mode to hear voice-guided directions.

Turn-by-turn biking navigation in Copenhagen

We know there are lots of ways to get from here to there, which is why in 2010, we added biking directions to Google Maps in the U.S. and Canada, and continue to work to bring more biking features to more places. Today, there are more than 330,000 miles (equal to more than 530,000 kilometers, or half a gigameter) of green biking lines in Google Maps. Dark green lines on the map show dedicated bike trails and paths with no motor vehicles, light green lines show streets with bike lanes and dashed green lines show other streets recommended for cycling. Biking navigation even helps you avoid steep hills.
Bike layer showing recommended streets for cycling in Stockholm

Where Map Maker and biking directions are both available, riders can add bike trails, lanes and suggested routes to Google Maps, helping to create a more comprehensive map for everyone living in or visiting their community. Thanks to the contributions of members of the biking community like Todd Scott and our partnership with nonprofits like Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we’ve added bike data for hundreds of cities and trails to Google Maps in the past two-and-a-half years.

When you’re pedaling from Point A to Point B, we hope biking navigation will make Google Maps for Android more useful to you.

(Cross-posted on the Lat Long blog)

Making it easier to cast your ballot

The first presidential nominating convention, held in 1832, was meant to give Americans a voice in the selection of the presidential nominee. Fast forward to 2012 and these conventions still represent a major moment in American politics—and we’re helping the conventions reach a larger audience by being the official live stream provider and social networking platform for the Republican National Convention in Tampa and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

In conjunction with our on-the-ground efforts, we’re making a number of online tools available to help you get organized and informed as Election Day approaches.

Get informed
Our Google Politics & Elections site enables you to see the latest Google News, YouTube videos, search and video trends, and Google+ content about the election in one place. You can also visit our live Elections Hub to watch the national political conventions, debates and even election night LIVE right from your mobile phone or laptop.

Register to vote
To make it easy to navigate the rules and deadlines about registering to vote and how to vote by mail, we put together an online voter guide. We’ve also added a special section to make it easier for military and overseas voters to find information about their different rules and deadlines.

As we approach the final days of the election, we’ll continue to develop useful ways for voters and campaigns to engage one another around the important issues in 2012.

We hope these tools will help you stay informed and participate in the election!

Google Maps heads north...way north

Search for [cambridge bay] on Google Maps and you’ll fly to a tiny hamlet located deep in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut in Canada’s Arctic, surrounded by an intricate lacework of tundra, waterways and breaking ice. High above the Arctic circle, it’s a place reachable only by plane or boat. Zoom in on the map, and this isolated village of 1,500 people appears as only a handful of streets, with names like Omingmak (“musk ox”) Street and Tigiganiak (“fox”) Road.

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Cambridge Bay in Google Maps

There are 4,000 years’ worth of stories waiting to be told on this map. Today, we’re setting out on an ambitious mission to tell some of those stories and to build the most comprehensive map of the region to date. It is the furthest north the Google Maps Street View team has traveled in Canada, and our first visit to Nunavut. Using the tools of 21st century cartography, we’re empowering a community and putting Cambridge Bay on the proverbial map of tomorrow.

The hamlet of Cambridge Bay

We’re not doing it alone, but with the help of the community and residents like Chris Kalluk. We first met Chris, who works for the nonprofit Nunavut Tunngavik, last September at our Google Earth Outreach workshop in Vancouver, where he learned how to edit Google Maps data using Google Map Maker. Today Chris played host to a community Map Up event in Cambridge Bay, where village elders, local mapping experts and teenagers from the nearby high school gathered around a dozen Chromebooks and used Map Maker to add new roads, rivers and lakes to the Google Map of Cambridge Bay and Canada's North. But they didn’t stop there. Using both English and Inuktitut, one of Nunavut’s official languages, they added the hospital, daycare, a nine-hole golf course, a territorial park and, finally, the remnants of an ancient Dorset stone longhouse which pre-dates Inuit culture.

Catherine Moats, a member of the Google Map Maker Team, working with Chris Kalluk and others at the Community Map Up.

Now we’re pedaling the Street View trike around the gravel roads of the hamlet and using a tripod—the same used to capture business interiors—to collect imagery of these amazing places. We’ll train Chris and others in the community to use some of this equipment so they can travel to other communities in Nunavut and continue to build the most comprehensive and accurate map of Canada’s Arctic. As Chris put it to us, “This is a place with a vast amount of local knowledge and a rich history. By putting these tools in the hands of our people, we will tell Nunavut’s story to the world.”

The Street View Trike collecting imagery of Cambridge Bay.

So stay tuned, world. We look forward to sharing with you the spectacular beauty and rich culture of Canada’s Arctic—one of the most isolated places on the planet that will soon be, thanks to the people of Cambridge Bay, just a click away.

(Cross-posted on the Lat Long Blog and new Google Canada Blog)

The U.S. election, live on YouTube

Today we’re introducing the YouTube Elections Hub, a one-stop channel for key political moments from now through the upcoming U.S. election day on November 6. You can watch all of the live speeches from the floor of the upcoming Republican and Democratic National Conventions, see Google+ Hangouts with power brokers behind the scenes, and watch a live stream of the official Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. You won’t need to go anywhere else for the must-watch moments of this election cycle...they’re all happening on the Hub live.

In addition to videos from politicians and parties, a diverse range of news organizations—both established names in media and sought-after new voices—are sharing their coverage of the political process on the new hub. You’ll find live and on-demand reporting and analysis from ABC News, Al Jazeera English, BuzzFeed, Larry King, The New York Times, Phil DeFranco, Univision and the Wall Street Journal. Each will put their own stamp on the Presidential race—from the conventions to the debates to election night.

Of course, we’ll have special live coverage around the Republican National Convention from August 27 to 30, the Democratic National Convention from September 4-6, the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates in October, and election night. Bookmark the Elections Hub now for a front row seat along the road to the White House.

(Cross-posted from the YouTube Blog)

Mapping the Motor City with Google Map Maker

Hailed as the birthplace of the automotive revolution, the city of Detroit, Mich. is taking its transportation legacy down new paths. As Detroit embraces a greener, non-motorized outlook, cycling is steadily increasing in popularity. The Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance is facilitating this transition by creating an interconnected statewide system of trails and greenways, including the development of bike paths throughout the Detroit area.

As these new bike paths change the city’s landscape, Motor City residents need a more comprehensive map showing bike friendly routes. Todd Scott, the Detroit Greenways Coordinator, discovered that he could use Google Map Maker—a free tool that allows anyone to make contributions to Google Maps—to add new information on biking paths and trails in and around Detroit. Adding new bike paths not only makes the map more accurate, it also improves biking directions, making it even easier for people to find the quickest routes through town. Anyone can also enhance existing trails by including details such as the official name, surface type and bicycle suitability. Keeping Google Maps updated with the latest information means everyone in the community is able to find and enjoy these new additions to the trail system.

Learn more about Todd Scott and his mission to improve the map for cyclists in Detroit.

Building a more comprehensive, accurate and usable map for local cyclists is just one part of Todd’s mission. From the smallest town to a rapidly evolving city like Detroit, maps reflect the heart of a community. Whether you’re improving directions, adding local businesses or mapping an entire area from scratch, your local expertise will help make life easier for not only you, but all Google Maps users. As Todd says, “It goes beyond map making. It’s a way to take back your neighborhood.”

How are you mapping your world? Join the Map Maker Community and tell us your story.

Is Your Child Safe In Their Car Seat?

Proper installation for a child under 2
Every day, two children under the age of 12 die in car crashes and 325 are injured.  A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine  found that car crashes are the leading cause of death in kids over age 3 in the U.S., yet many parents still don't know how to properly install car seats or know the age guidelines for booster seats.

Requiring that children travel in proper restraints reduces the risk of fatality and injury so much that each U.S. state and territory has adopted its own regulations on child safety seats.  Although most parents understand that babies must travel in child safety seats, varying state regulations can create some confusion.  According to AAA polling, only 39 percent of parents know the specific rules in their states.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which updated their child passenger safety guidelines in 2011:
  • Children should remain in child safety or booster seats until they are at least 4’9”, the minimum height for using standard seat belts
  • Rear-facing car safety seat (CSS) for kids until they are 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their CSS.
  • All kids 2 years or older, or those younger than 2 years who have outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their CSS, should use a forward-facing CSS with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their CSS.
  • Back seat riding with seat belt until age 13
Don’t forget to check the expiration dates on the child safety seats you’re using, too.  Exposure to sun, cold, and heat, as well as general wear and tear, degrade the plastic and foam in the seats, so they begin to lose their effectiveness. 

Google for Entrepreneurs goes to San Diego to empower veterans and military families

In addition to all they do for their country overseas, service members are also a markedly entrepreneurial group: although veterans represent only 6% of the U.S. population, they account for an impressive 13.5% of all U.S. small business owners. This entrepreneurial spirit is contributing to business growth around the country, and last week we decided to head down to San Diego to see how Google for Entrepreneurs and Startup Weekend could help.

On August 9, Google for Entrepreneurs, along with the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families and Startup Weekend, hosted a series of events focused on giving business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs from the military community the training and tools they need to take advantage of the web to build and grow businesses. More than 200 service members learned about free tools to create a web site, track and measure their web presence and market their product or service.

Engaged and full of pride, the veteran-owned businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs came from across California. Misty Birchall, a Navy veteran and founder of PubCakes, delighted attendees when she gave us a taste of her passion for combining baking and craft beer. Marine Corps sergeant turned organic farmer Colin Archipley brought many participants from Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training, an entrepreneurial incubator program he founded to help transitioning veterans train for careers in sustainable agriculture. Even the underdogs (and undercats) were well-represented—Precious Paw Prints, an online retailer selling creative pet accessories owned by Marine veteran Kiersten Carlin, shared that small business can win by providing a higher level of quality and service that larger brands cannot.

Over the following weekend, aspiring entrepreneurs from the veterans community attended the local Startup Weekend, where they formed teams to turn their idea ideas into products. By Sunday night, five teams had launched businesses.

Being a successful entrepreneur means having an appetite for risk, an ability to navigate ambiguity and a passion to get things done at all costs; it’s no mystery why such a large number of small businesses are started by veterans or service-disabled veterans. They certainly have what it takes to be entrepreneurs.

You can read more about our recent programs for members of the veterans’ community here.

Tour Brazil and prehispanic Mexican cities with more Street View imagery in Google Maps

Our ongoing effort to build great maps—ones that are accurate, easy to navigate and cover every corner of the world—continues to progress. Over the last few months, Google Maps has taken people everywhere from the Amazon to Antarctica, and we’re continuing to add imagery of even more places around globe. Beginning this week, you can dive even deeper into Latin America with new Street View imagery of Brazil and Mexico.

Street View first became available for Brazil in 2010, and as of this week, we’ve grown our collection of panoramic imagery to more than 70 cities throughout the country. You’ll now find colonial cities like Fortaleza, architecturally compelling cities like Brasilia and coastal landmarks like Recife, Natal and Salvador. You can even virtually travel to the west side of Brazil and visit Foz de Iguaçu, or if you’re planning an upcoming trip, preview the the area around your hotel as well as nearby shopping malls, historic monuments, restaurants and more. With so many upcoming events, like the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, we’re excited to share the riches of Brazil’s cities not only with tourists from around the world, but also with locals who might want to visit a city, neighborhood or landmark they’ve not yet experienced.

Street View imagery of Brazil available before mid-August 2012

Street View imagery of Brazil available beginning mid-August 2012

We’ve also introduced Street View imagery of 30 Mesoamerican archaeological sites in Mexico. Start your adventure by exploring Kukulkan’s Temple, a 1,100-year-old pyramid whose peak is reached by climbing 365 steps, one for each day of the year. When visitors clap their hands, the architectural acoustics at the base of the pyramid’s steps are designed to mimic the sound of the Quetzal, a bird that the Mayans regard as representative of their gods.

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Chichén Itzá, Mexico

Find hundreds of magical stories like this one by visiting the colossal pyramids of Teotihuacan, emblematic sites for the Mayans such as Chichen Itza or seaside archaeological jewels like Tulum. These and other famous sites from around the world can be seen in our Street View Gallery.

We’re always improving the comprehensiveness of our maps so you can experience more imagery from around the world. Whether you’re planning a visit to one of these areas or touring these locations from the comfort of your armchair, we hope you enjoy these captivating new images of Latin America.

Voice Search arrives in 13 new languages

“Norwegian restaurants in New York City.” I can type that phrase fast, but I can say it even faster—and when I’m on the go, speed is what I’m looking for. With Voice Search, you can speak into your phone to get search results quickly and easily. Voice Search is already available in 29 languages, and today, we're bringing support to 13 new languages for Android users—bringing the total to 42 languages and accents in 46 countries. In fact, 100 million new speakers can use Voice Search now, with the addition of:

  • Basque
  • Bulgarian
  • Catalan
  • European Portuguese
  • Finnish
  • Galician
  • Hungarian
  • Icelandic
  • Norwegian
  • Romanian
  • Serbian
  • Slovak
  • Swedish

Each new language usually requires that we initially collect hundreds of thousands of utterances from volunteers and, although we’ve been working on speech recognition for several years, adding these new languages led our engineers and scientists to tackle some unique challenges. While languages like Romanian follow predictable pronunciation rules, others, like Swedish, required that we recruit native speakers to provide us with the pronunciations for thousands of words. Our scientists then built a machine learning system based on that data to predict how all other Swedish words would be pronounced.

This update has already started to roll out, and will continue to do so over the course of the next week. How you get started with Google Voice Search depends on what kind of phone you have. If your phone runs Android 2.2 or later, and you see the microphone icon on the Google Search widget on your homescreen, all you have to do is tap the icon to start a voice-powered search. Otherwise, you can install the Voice Search app from Google Play. Note that you can only speak one language into the app at a time, and you may need to change your language settings to use one of these new languages.

As with other languages we’ve added, one of the major benefits to Google’s cloud-based model is that the more people use Voice Search, the more accurate it becomes.

(Cross-posted on the Android blog)

Google Maps now has schedules for more than one million public transit stops worldwide

Since 2005, we’ve collaborated with hundreds of transit authorities around the world to make a comprehensive resource for millions of riders to find out which bus, train, subway or tram can take them to their next destination. Today, Google Maps has public transportation schedules for more than one million transit stops worldwide, in nearly 500 cities including New York, London, Tokyo and Sydney.

Public transportation information is especially useful when it’s in the palm of your hand. Today we’re releasing an update to the Google Maps for Android app (version 6.10) which makes this transit information even more useful. We’ve made some changes to the Transit Lines layer, so that you can select a specific mode of public transportation (train, bus, tram or subway) to display on the mobile map, hiding the other modes. This is helpful in areas where there is a tight concentration of several types of public transit.

Left: Mobile map with all modes of public transit shown; Right: Transit Lines layer in Subway mode

We’ve also updated the layout of station pages to be more useful. Open it by tapping on the name of the station on your mobile map.

Updated station pages show you departure times, lines serving the station and the distance to nearby stations.

In addition to these new transit features, we’ve updated region highlighting, My Places and Location History displays in Google Maps for Android:
  • Now, whenever you search for a city or postal code, the borders of that region are highlighted.
  • Under My Places you’ll notice we’ve added new tabs, which will help you access all your information from a single place; from your saved maps for use offline to your starred places and Custom Maps created on your desktop.
  • If you enable Location History, you’ll be able to browse the places you’ve been on a daily basis with an updated Location History dashboard.
Whether you’re looking for schedule and fare information, directions by public transit or nearby stations, Google Maps puts comprehensive, accurate and useful transit information at your fingertips. Update to the latest version of Google Maps for Android in the Google Play store.

London calling: some reflections on the digital games

The stats are in, and one clear winner from this year’s summer sports has emerged: digital media. Here’s a quick look behind the “screens” at how the web blew records away around the world, at the most wired Games ever.

Searches set a new pace
Mirroring the growth of the web and digital media, Google search volume around the world was dramatically higher this year than during Beijing in 2008:

  • Driven by a 900 percent increase in [ryan lochte] searches, American interest in [swimming] spiked 25 percent higher than 2008 levels.
  • The “Fierce Five” vaulted U.S. searches for [gymnastics] to almost double the 2008 peak.
  • Spurred on by a record-breaking performance by sprinter Usain Bolt, Jamaican searches for [track and field] raced up 40 percent from 2008.
  • Japanese gymnast and first-time gold medalist [kohei uchimura] proved he’s a “superman” in search as well as on the tumbling mat, with search volume in his home country up 420 percent over the last games.
  • Success may have been sweeter the second time around for wrestler [sushil kumar], the first Indian athlete to win an individual medal at successive Olympics, with searches up more than 375 percent from the 2008 games.
Here are a few more search snapshots:

Top Athlete Searches (U.S.) Top Athlete Searches (U.K.) Top Artist Closing Ceremony Searches (U.S.)
Michael Phelps Usain Bolt Jessie J
Ryan Lochte Jessica Ennis Beady Eye
Lolo Jones Michael Phelps Gary Barlow
Usain Bolt Victoria Pendleton Ed Sheeran
Alex Morgan Andy Murray Freddie Mercury

Global streaming goes the distance
YouTube powered the live stream for NBC Olympics and for the International Olympic Committee’s YouTube Channel, making the world’s games even more global and accessible. NBC Olympics saw more live streams than during the entire Beijing Games—more than 159 million total video streams and more than 64 million live streams across YouTube's online, mobile and tablet experiences. In all, more than 20 million hours of total video was streamed over 17 days. And of course, the Games were also streamed on the IOC’s channel (, with tens of millions of streams to 64 countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. We’ll have more details on the YouTube blog soon.

The multi-screen relay
More than ever, people experienced the Games not just via the TV broadcast, but on desktops, mobile phones and tablets. Through research panels conducted in partnership with NBC in the U.S., we learned a bit more about how this played out:
  • Mobile makes a strong showing: Many viewers turned to one or more “second screens” beyond TV to keep updated on the Olympics—nearly half of those who did (44 percent) did so via a mobile phone or tablet.
  • Power viewers: Second-screen viewing didn’t seem to diminish participants’ interest in watching the games on fact, it increased it. People who followed the Games on TV plus one other screen watched 52 percent more Olympics on TV than those who didn’t; people who followed on two additional screens spent more than twice as much time (105 percent) with TV. And people who watched live streams of events online watched 66 percent more Olympics on television than people who followed exclusively on TV.
  • Synchronized usage: Overall, nearly 56 percent of people who followed the Games on TV and at least one other screen did so simultaneously. These simultaneous viewers also watched TV for 67 percent longer than those who only watched TV.

Gold for digital businesses
Brands who invest in digital marketing to connect with customers grow their own businesses and help make great content possible. A few campaigns that caught our eye:

  • Visa’s global “Go World" campaign invited fans to show their support for Team Visa athletes in the form of cheers across social media. The campaign generated more than 59 million cheers, and Visa’s YouTube channel accounted for more than 47 million views of Visa’s commercials and athlete training videos from around the world.
  • Insurance provider Zurich launched a successful “Share your Sports Moments” marketing campaign on Google and YouTube, featuring members of the German Olympic team. The result: a significant uplift in the number of leads who then signed insurance contracts.
  • Lloyds TSB Bank, presenting partner of the Olympic Torch relay, conducted a successful AdWords campaign that kept pace with the Olympic torch as it passed through towns in the U.K., resulting in more than 190,000 clicks and more than 2 million impressions over three months.

Higher traffic and increased investment in the web also helped online publishers in a big way:

  • In the U.S., across 2 million sites in our Google Display Network and the DoubleClick Ad Exchange, ads shown on sports-related websites increased by 19 percent, while revenues (RPMs) for these sites increased by 14 percent, compared to the two previous weeks.
  • Our premium ad serving platform for publishers (DoubleClick for Publishers), which helps some of the web’s largest publishers make money from their content, broke a new record, with one major publisher serving more than 400 million ad impressions in a day across its website and mobile content—driving higher revenues and more free content.

A fun note to end on: showing how the web can fuse data and creativity while opening the playing field, one of our software engineers used Google App Engine to create a “per capita” medal tally (the data is real, the accounting is somewhat creative). On this basis, one country stands above all others—congratulations to the most successful nation of the last two weeks, Grenada!

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Pre-flight check: Can we find you?

On July 23, we got that dreaded call: someone wasn’t where they were supposed to be. A pilot, flying his home-built airplane, didn’t show up. Family members notified authorities and WSDOT Aviation launched an air search.

Working out of the Wenatchee airport, searchers flew grid patterns (based on the route he most likely took), scoured mountainous terrain and chased leads. Sadly - after six and a half days of searching, dried-up leads and exhausted resources – we had to suspend the search.

When a plane goes missing, it’s a race against the clock to try to get as much information as possible. When hours turn into days, the chances of a favorable outcome decrease drastically.

So now we have a sobering reminder to pilots and anyone who cares about someone who flies. No one wants to think they might one day be the subject of a search. However, the old adage –“expect the best and prepare for the worst” might just be the key to saving a pilot’s (and any passengers’) life.

Our goal is no plane ever goes missing. But if the worst happens, here are some things that will make it easier for emergency crews to find the plane faster:

File a flight plan  – a flight plan will tell searchers where you were heading and your intended route. This information can be critical during a search.

Use flight following – talking to air traffic control (ATC) during your flight can pay dividends if you go missing. ATC would have radar information and details about when they last spoke to you, where you were heading, and if you had reported any in-flight troubles.

Make sure you have an operational emergency locator transmitter – the key word here is “operational.” Check it out every so often to make sure it’s working. ELTs  transmit distress signals in emergencies and help search crews find your location. ELTs are required in most U.S. registered civil aircraft.

Consider investing in a new 406 ELT – several years ago, a more advanced model of the ELT (406 mhz) was developed. This version will cost around $550 per unit, but has an 80 percent chance of activating upon impact. And it will tell searchers your tail number and exact location. This could mean the difference between hours and minutes when it comes to searches.

Conquer the back to school blues with Google tools

August is both an end to the lush freedom of summer and the beginning of another year of student life. As a rising senior at the University of Florida, this time is both exciting and anxiety-inducing. Even though I’m looking forward to many aspects of the school year, there are certain things about college—from book budgets to calculus study sessions—that can make it a headache.

But this fall, I feel more prepared to face the daily student grind. This summer, I had the chance to intern on the communications team at Google and got the inside track on some tools and tricks to make school a snap. For example, did you know there was an extension for Chrome that helps you stay focused on your work? Yup, didn’t think so! So I thought I’d share some of my new favorite tips—my “Survival Guide for Student Life”—to help make it easier for all students to get through the coming months.

Easy ways to coordinate your social and extracurricular life

  • Google+ Hangouts enables you to video chat with up to nine friends from your desktop, mobile phone or tablet. A great feature for when your club needs to discuss some last minute changes for the upcoming meeting.
  • Stay on task with Hangout Apps like Symphonical, which provides a digital wall of sticky notes for virtual brainstorm sessions.
  • With Google+ Events, invite all your friends to your get-together and attach a personalized video greeting to the invitation. During the event, photos from the party can be uploaded to the event page in real-time using Party Mode. So if you have to miss a party due to a study session, you can avoid that pesky FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)!
  • Let your friends know what you’re up to by sharing your Google Calendar with them. Or create a shared calendar just for your study group.
Stay organized and efficient—and be prepared for the unexpected
  • Stop the email flood from the ridiculous number of email lists you signed up for using Gmail’s auto-unsubscribe feature.
  • No more sore eyes from crowded inboxes—Gmail's default mode is Priority Inbox so it automatically sorts your important messages for you.
  • Cite your sources! Use Google Docs’ research tool to investigate highlighted portions of your essay and then generate a citation.
  • Group projects call for collaboration. With Google Drive, you can use shared folders so everyone can access materials without having to email updates to each other.
  • Using your laptop or phone, you can send any documents or presentations saved on your Google Drive to Fedex to be printed, thanks to Google Cloud Print.
Get what you need and where you’re going faster
  • For those of you starting at university this year, Google Maps has 360-degree panoramic Street View imagery for many campuses around the world to give you a preview of your new stomping grounds.
  • Back to school shopping is one of the most fun things about August. Find your way in and out of malls and department stores with indoor Google Maps on Android devices.
  • We college students can’t go too long without homemade food. Search for your next flight home with Flight Search. (If flying makes you a bit queasy, track any care packages by typing the tracking code into the Google search bar.)
  • Stay informed with Google Now. This feature, available on Android devices running Jelly Bean, can update you when the next bus is coming or provide the weather forecast for Saturday’s big game.
Reading, writing, 'rithmetic and... YouTube
  • Don’t break the bank on textbooks. Google Play has millions of FREE (emphasis is important) books readily available such as "Pride and Prejudice" and "Gulliver’s Travels."
  • With the new Nexus 7 tablet, you can take your Google Play books, music, movies, TV shows, magazines and apps (like My Majors and doubleTwist Alarm Clock) with you, wherever you go.
  • Locate hard-to-find books online or at a library near you with Book Search.
  • Put Chrome to work with educational apps
  • Not a fan of traditional note taking? Chromebooks are a super fast and virus-proof laptop. It starts seconds after you boot it and will last through a whole day of classes.
  • A fair portion of us students aren’t fans of mental math. Type any equation into the Google search box to get the answers you need. It can graph functions as well.
  • We know we spend too much of our time watching funny videos on YouTube, but there are video channels that can actually help us learn more about a variety of subjects—from astrophysics to world history. Find more educational channels at YouTube EDU.
I’m resting a bit easier now that I know there are tools that make student life a bit less overwhelming. Here’s hoping you, too, feel armed to face the fall semester—and beyond—with Google in your backpack.

Building the search engine of the future, one baby step at a time

Larry Page once described the perfect search engine as understanding exactly what you mean and giving you back exactly what you want. It’s very much like the computer I dreamt about as a child growing up in India, glued to our black-and-white TV for every episode of Star Trek. I imagined a future where a starship computer would be able to answer any question I might ask, instantly. Today, we’re closer to that dream than I ever thought possible during my working life—and here are some of the latest steps we’re taking today to make search even more intelligent:

1. Understanding the world
In May we launched the Knowledge Graph, our database of more than 500 million real-world people, places and things with 3.5 billion attributes and connections among them. The feedback has been phenomenally positive and we want to extend this feature to people outside the U.S. So starting today, you’ll see Knowledge Graph results across every English-speaking country in the world. If you’re in Australia and search for [chiefs], you’ll get the rugby team—its players, results and history.

We’ll also use this intelligence to help you find the right result more quickly when your search may have different meanings. For example, if you search for [rio], you might be interested in the Brazilian city, the recent animated movie or the casino in Vegas. Thanks to the Knowledge Graph, we can now give you these different suggestions of real-world entities in the search box as you type:

Finally, the best answer to your question is not always a single entity, but a list or group of connected things. It’s quite challenging to pull these lists automatically from the web. But we’re now beginning to do just that. So when you search for [california lighthouses], [hurricanes in 2008] or [famous female astronomers], we’ll show you a list of these things across the top of the page. And by combining our Knowledge Graph with the collective wisdom of the web, we can even provide more subjective lists like [best action movies of the 2000s] or [things to do in paris]. If you click on an item, you can then explore the result more deeply on the web:

So far we can produce hundreds of thousands of lists involving millions of items, and we’ll keep growing to match your curiosity. A quick preview:

2. Putting your info at your fingertips
Sometimes the best answer to your question isn’t available on the public web—it may be contained somewhere else, such as in your email. We think you shouldn’t have to be your own mini-search engine to find the most useful information—it should just work. A search is a search, and we want our results to be truly universal. So we’re developing a way to find this information for you that’s useful and unobtrusive, and we’d love your feedback. Starting today, we’re opening up a limited trial where you can sign up to get information from your Gmail right from the search box.

So if you’re planning a biking trip to Tahoe, you might see relevant emails from friends about the best bike trails, or great places to eat on the right hand side of the results page. If it looks relevant you can then expand the box to read the emails:

We’re working on some even more useful features. For example, if you search for [my flights] we will organize flight confirmation emails for any upcoming trips in a beautifully easy-to-read way right on the search results page:

3. Understanding your intent
Often the most natural way to ask a question is by asking aloud. So we’ve combined our speech recognition expertise, understanding of language and the Knowledge Graph so that Voice Search can better interpret your questions and sometimes speak the answers back as full sentences. This has been available on Android for a few weeks and people love it. It’ll soon be available on your iPhone or iPad (iOS version 4.2+).

You just need to tap the microphone icon and ask your question, the same way you’d ask a friend. For example, ask “What movies are playing this weekend?” and you’ll see your words streamed back to you quickly as you speak. Then Google will show you a list of the latest movies in theaters near you, with schedules and even trailers. It works for everything from celebrity factoids to the height of Kilamanjaro and more. When Google can supply a direct answer to your question, you’ll get a spoken response too.

These are baby steps, but important ones on our way to building the search engine of the future—one that is much more intelligent and useful than it was just a few years ago. It’s a very exciting time to be working in this field.

Deadly Debris

Nineteen-year-old Katie Puwalowski wasn’t killed by a drunk driver, or a texting driver, or any of the other “types” of drivers that get the lion’s share of attention for being menaces to other road users. Instead, she was killed last week outside of Pittsburgh by a tire that came off a Jeep, bounced across the median, and struck her vehicle.

How can we ever come to terms with such a crash, and the suddenness by which motorists can be targeted by flying objects?

The AAA Foundation has examined this issue in its research, in an effort to better understand the safety impact of vehicle-related road debris (VRRD). Our estimates suggest that nationwide, approximately 25,000 crashes and 80-90 fatalities each year are attributable to VRRD, and these may be under-estimates due to data limitations.

Statistically-speaking, this means VRRD crashes are rare, accounting for roughly 0.2% of fatal crashes and 0.4% of non-fatal crashes. But this rarity is of no comfort to Katie’s loved ones, or the loved ones of Sara Betancourt, who was killed in Connecticut last year when a metal bolt came off a dump truck and crashed through her windshield, or the loved ones of Channing Quinichett, who died on the Capital Beltway in 2009 when a tire detached from a truck that was being towed, bounced down the highway, and was launched onto her vehicle by a striking tractor-trailer truck.

The list goes on.

The lesson learned from each of these crashes is that we all have a responsibility to properly secure cargo, keep our vehicles in good working condition, and immediately investigate rattles and other indications of loose parts. After all, at highway speeds even seemingly-insignificant items can pose lethal hazards. In fact, roughly 63% of fatal VRRD crashes occur on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher, compared with 27% of fatal crashes overall.

Motorists can also take steps to avoid being the victims of VRRD crashes, of which remaining alert and observant at all times is the most important. See a tire tread in the lane next to you? Chances are there’s more rubber elsewhere, too. Are cars suddenly slowing and changing lanes up ahead? It could be due to a hazard that you can’t see yet, but have plenty of time to avoid because you were paying attention. And don’t hesitate to call the police if you see a vehicle with a load that appears to be improperly or inadequately secured.

While being attentive behind the wheel is crucial for a variety of reasons, the fact remains that perceiving and avoiding sudden hazards is always difficult. As such, we owe it to our fellow motorists to never put them in that position in the first place.

Remember: maintain your car, secure your load, and save a life.

The self-driving car logs more miles on new wheels

Technology is at its best when it makes people’s lives better, and that’s precisely what we’re going for with our self-driving car project. We’re using advanced computer science to try and make driving safer and more enjoyable.

Our vehicles, of which about a dozen are on the road at any given time, have now completed more than 300,000 miles of testing. They’ve covered a wide range of traffic conditions, and there hasn’t been a single accident under computer control.

We’re encouraged by this progress, but there’s still a long road ahead. To provide the best experience we can, we’ll need to master snow-covered roadways, interpret temporary construction signals and handle other tricky situations that many drivers encounter. As a next step, members of the self-driving car team will soon start using the cars solo (rather than in pairs), for things like commuting to work. This is an important milestone, as it brings this technology one step closer to every commuter. One day we hope this capability will enable people to be more productive in their cars. For now, our team members will remain in the driver’s seats and will take back control if needed.

And while these team members are commuting, many of them will be testing our algorithms on a new type of vehicle we’ve added to the self-driving car family over the past few months to help us refine our systems in different environments and on different terrain: the Lexus RX450h.

With each breakthrough we feel more optimistic about delivering this technology to people and dramatically improving their driving experience. We’ll see you on the road!

The tree versus the shadow

Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. —Abraham Lincoln
When I was looking for investors for my startup in 1997, I was a lot more interested in the values and character of my potential investors than in the name of the firm on the door. My first investors were not from Sand Hill Road or Palo Alto, but were people I knew would support my company (and me) in the ways we most needed help.

As an entrepreneur, you want to know if your investors will be there for you, help you do the right things, and encourage you to persist and evolve when things seem dark. Perhaps most of all, you want to know they’ve been there before, and that they’ll be calm and confident when things go wrong—when giving up sounds like a pretty good option.

At Google Ventures, we try to be the kind of hands-on investors that quietly help to build companies. We try to be the kind of investors we sought as entrepreneurs ourselves. Starting a company can be a lonely business, and it helps to know you’ve got someone on your side who has been through it before.

Today, we're launching a new Google Ventures blog as an experiment, hoping it will help you get to know the people and companies at Google Ventures a little better. We’ll share how we think about things and why, if you’re an entrepreneur, you might want to talk to Joe, Rich, Kevin and the rest of the team.

(Cross-posted from the Google Ventures Blog)

Fish-friendly culvert to open after SR 167 closes next weekend

by guest blogger Steve Peer

Crews install a section of culvert during
another fish-friendly project. 
Our culvert is similar…but twice as large!
Throughout the Puget Sound region, many culverts and drainage systems inhibit fish access to area waterways. Over the years, we have been working to replace the antiquated systems with new fish-friendly ones.  Panther Creek, which flows under SR 167 in Renton, is next to undergo an upgrade. To accomplish the work, we’ll completely close down a section of freeway for an entire weekend.  Crews will dig a 65-foot wide and 35-foot deep trench for the new culvert. Crews will then install a 19-foot wide pipe that will make passing through the culvert easier for fish and other aquatic wildlife. In addition to providing fish access, the project will lay the groundwork for future SR 167 improvements and help reduce seasonal flooding to properties west of SR 167.
Although there never a good time to close a busy highway, we chose this weekend in August to make the most of the dry, warm weather, and light summer traffic.
Closure Details
For 58 hours, spanning from 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 10 to 5 a.m. on Monday, August 13, we’ll close SR 167 between I-405 and the S. 180th Street/SW 43rd Street exit to the IKEA district.

What should you do?
  • Know Before You Go: check our website, call 511 for real-time travel information and plan for delays and added travel time.
  • Delay discretionary trips, especially during high traffic periods, such as between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. 
  • Anticipate heavy congestion on alternate routes such as I-405, I-5 and SR 181. 
  • Expect increased congestion on local streets, especially on Lind Avenue, South 180th Street, South Grady Way, Rainier Avenue South, Talbot Road, and SR 181/West Valley Highway.  
  • Carpool and use transit. Here are some links to help you plan your trip: 

The SR 167 closure isn’t the only large project shutting down a highway during the weekend.  Crews in Bellevue will also install a fish-friendly culvert resulting in a 55 hour weekend closure of SR 520.  For the latest on the regional closures, please check out our What’s Happening Now page.

A new way to visualize the global arms trade

Did you know that 60 percent of all violent deaths are due to small arms and light weapons? Small arms, such as revolvers, assault rifles and light machine guns, and ammunition represent a multi-billion dollar industry, and three quarters of the world’s small arms lie in the hand of civilians—more than 650 million civilian arms. As part of the Google Ideas initiative on illicit networks, we’ve created an interactive data visualization of global small arms and ammunition trading to better understand and map the global arms trade.

The tool was produced by Google’s Creative Lab team in collaboration with the Igarape Institute. More than 1 million data points on imports and exports of small arms, light weapons and ammunition between 1992 and 2010 and across 250 states and territories across the world were provided by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) small arms database. The visualization reveals patterns and trends in imports and exports of arms and ammunition across the world, making it easy to explore how they relate to conflicts worldwide. More of the implications of this data are discussed in this video from the INFO summit hosted by Google Ideas last month:

You can explore these data points by zooming in and out of the globe, clicking on any country to readjust the view, and using the histogram tool at the bottom to see trading patterns over the years. You can see, for example, that the scale of the global trade in ammunition rivals the scale of trade in actual weapons, an insight underexplored by policymakers today in conflict prevention and resolution.

We built this visualization using the open source WebGL Globe on Google’s Chrome Experiments site; since it is open sourced, we hope to see others use the globe as a platform for bringing other complex datasets to life.

Update 8/16/12: This post has been updated to reflect more accurate numbers.

Giving you a better Google

We work every day to create a more seamless, beautiful user experience—to give you a better, easier-to-use Google. This means continuously improving the products we offer, and recognizing when users of one product might have a better experience with another. Over the past year, we’ve made changes to around 50 products, features and services—donating, merging and shutting things down so we can focus on the high-impact products that millions of people use, multiple times a day. Today, we’re announcing a few more changes:

  • We introduced Google Apps for Teams in 2008 to allow people with a verified business or school email address to collaborate using non-email applications from Google like Google Docs, Google Calendar and Google Talk. Over time, we realized that Google Apps for Teams was not as useful for people as we originally anticipated. Beginning September 4, 2012, we'll start converting existing Google Apps for Teams accounts into personal Google Accounts, and shutting down Google Apps for Teams. This change does not affect other editions of Google Apps.
  • We launched Google Listen through Google Labs in August 2009, to give people a way to discover and listen to podcasts. However, with Google Play, people now have access to a wider variety of podcast apps, so we’ve discontinued Listen. People who have already installed the app can still use it, but after November 1, podcast search won’t function. You can access your podcast subscriptions in Google Reader in the “Listen Subscriptions” folder and download them from the Import/Export tab.
  • Google Video for Business is a video hosting and sharing solution that allowed Google Apps for Business and Google Apps for Education customers to use video for internal communication. Starting this fall, we’ll migrate all videos hosted on Google Video for Business over to Google Drive, which has similar storage and sharing capabilities. All migrated videos will be stored for free and will not count against a user’s Google Drive storage quota.
  • Finally, Google maintains 150+ blogs and other communications channels about our products and services, and so over time we'll also be closing a number of Google-created blogs that are either updated infrequently, or are redundant with other blogs. This doesn't mean that we'll be sharing any less information—we'll just be posting our updates on our more popular channels.
Technology has the power to change people’s lives. But to make a difference, we need to carefully consider what to focus on, and make hard decisions about what we won’t pursue. This enables us to devote more time and resources giving you products you love, and making them better for you.

Round-the-clock closures on US 2 this weekend to replace “Swiss cheese” culverts

 By guest blogger
Erica Taylor

After 40 years of service, the culverts that run under US 2 near Snohomish are so corroded, maintenance crews say they look like Swiss cheese. It’s time to replace the old steel culverts with thick, durable, rubberized plastic pipes that will reduce long-term maintenance needs and costs. Though they’re invisible from the roadway, the culverts are a very important part of the highway drainage system – leaky culverts can lead to potholes, bumps, cracks and potentially sinkholes.

Crew perform prep work for culvert removal
and installation underneath US 2.
So, what do Swiss cheese culverts mean for your travels? If you’re planning to take eastbound US 2 in Snohomish this weekend, allow some time for detours.

Crews will cut open the highway and dig underneath to remove the old culverts and install the new ones (see video below). That means a weekend-long closure of eastbound US 2, from 20th Street SE to Bickford Avenue. Lanes will close at 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3, and won’t reopen until 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 6. This weekend is just the first of six directional closures on US 2 between now and October. During closures, we’ll post a detour along SR 9 and 20th Street SE. The detour will add 10 to 15 minutes to most trips, but if you’re traveling Saturday or Sunday afternoon, plan to add at least 20 minutes extra travel time.

Visit our project Web page for up-to-date information and closure schedules. Keep up with construction in Snohomish County by signing up for email updates and bookmarking the construction update page.