This story is over 5 years old.


The Predecessor to Google Earth Was Clumsy, Yet Powerful

Terravision would have been weird and powerful, but it never stood a chance.

In the most 90's future-techie video ever, a man in a mismatched suit and bowtie manipulates a waist-high scroll ball. This was Terravision, an ill-fated Google Earth predecessor developed by ART+COM Studios in 1994.

Using a mouse in combination with the big globe and a screen, you could "fly" over the earth and see weather patterns and terrain, and zoom all the way into mockups of buildings and offices. "Ecological, sociological, and political" data would give the user an all-powerful view of the world literally at their fingertips. It's an ambitious concept, especially for the 90s.

But it never took off in the way Google Earth later would, in 2001. Was it sabotaged by future Google employees?

ART+COM thought so, and sued Google for willful patent infringement in 2014, claiming that "the development history of Google Earth indicates knowledge and infringement by key Google employees," and that Google Earth "bears remarkable similarities to ART+COM's commercial system, which was developed nearly a decade prior to Google's introduction of Google Earth."

Its lawsuit, which was unsuccessful, names two Google employees, former Google Earth CTO Michael Jones and Brian McClendon, former head of Google Maps, for stealing the intellectual property and using it to advance Google's world-imaging-domination endeavors. A jury determined Google didn't infringe on ART+COM's patent.

"In the future, we will develop T-vision further as a multipurpose interface," the video voiceover states. It didn't get the chance. We may never know a world where every office is equipped with a strange gray globe and a god-level view of the planet.