Google Maps adds new helicopter view feature

Here's something that will come in handy next time you're planning a road trip. Google's new helicopter view feature will give you a chance to fly over your route before you drive it.

The search engine giant recently made an announcement via its LatLong blog that Google Maps will now feature an option to check out travel directions from above: with a 3D helicopter view.

To take advantage of Google's latest innovation, you'll need to make sure you've downloaded the most recent Google Earth plugin. Then, enter beginning and endpoint destinations at www.maps.google.com . Next, select a route. To view that route in 3D helicopter mode, click the little 3D button to the right of your route.

You'll then be able to see an aerial preview of your selected course. Google chose to show off its new feature with a scenic drive down the California coast, which was a treat for landlocked viewers. The helicopter view for the route between St. Louis and Indianapolis wasn't nearly as stellar, as it mostly featured swaths of brown farmland. The drive from New York City to Boston was almost the opposite, as the track chosen was covered by skyscrapers and concrete jungle.

Bing offers user a similar service via its mapping website. The birds-eye-view option gives viewers the same 3D images, but Google seems to take it a step further with the animations.

A reviewer for Gizmodo compared Google's new feature to a "sweet magic carpet ride." Though the review was mostly positive, the author also noted that, "there's basically no purpose to it other than geeky-coolness, and geeky-coolness for geeky-coolness' sake, is a-okay with me."

But don't just take their word for it; you can take a trip of your own at maps.google.com.

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