Driving Google Maps into high gear

Google Maps helps you drive, but have you ever driven on a map? There are a number of driving simulators that use online map technology to provide a 2D driving experience. Map Channels’ Street View Driver lets users get a first person perspective of driving down any of the cities mapped by Google Street View. It’s obviously not the same sensation of driving, but users can accelerate and decelerate and turn left or right down any mapped street.

Geoquake turns the concept up a notch by adding a virtual steering wheel and letting drivers pick their own car for a fast-paced drive through a number of cities, including Tokyo, Las Vegas and Manhattan. GoogleDrive is comparatively underwhelming, but it’s still fun to zip the little car through any street mapped by Google.

For those who are better spectators than they are drivers, this mashup of a YouTube video of the recent Big Wheel Race in San Francisco with a Google Maps widget shows viewers the actual race while plotting its course on the adjacent map. The result is, dare I say, genius and the technology has practical applications in journalism.

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race may be traveling the globe, but its impressive map remains in one place. The paths of competing yachts are tracked in real time on a Google Map with stats available for each vessel. As of this writing, the yachts are headed from New York to Nova Scotia and Team New York is narrowly ahead of Team Uniquely Singapore followed by Team Glasgow: Scotland with Style. It’s exciting, kind of like watching a carnival’s water pistol horse race.

The more literary-inclined will enjoy We Tell Stories: The 21 Steps, a continuous story that unfolds over one map. The “digital fiction” work is inspired by The 39 Steps by John Buchan, written a century before the advent of Google Maps. The story itself is a good read and breathes new life into a well-worn medium.

If it’s between 5:30 and 8:30 a.m. Central Time, you can find AirFox Live hovering over the virtual skies of Google Maps. Most TV stations have a news helicopter, but Fox News Chicago is making the most of theirs by streaming live video shot from the copter as it cruises the Illinois skies. When the cameras aren’t rolling, the site has a live skyline cam and a slideshow of some of the best aerial views of the city.

This post is the fourth in a five-part series on maps. Previously: Online tools for getting more out of maps, Exploring the Earth, Tracking down criminals with crime maps