Whee! Google adds helicopter view for route planning

Planning a trip can be fun – but getting directions usually isn’t. While it’s one of the most-used features on Google Maps, it’s all generally a bit of a chore.

But now, Google’s added what it’s calling a helicopter view to its navigation service, allowing travelers to preview their route in 3D.

“Let’s say you’re planning a road trip down the beautiful coast of California’s Highway 1 and want to be able to see what the route really looks like,” says Google Maps engineer Paul Yang.

“California’s rugged coastline is not to be missed, but the top-down view really doesn’t give you a good sense of what this majestic terrain is like. Using the 3D preview; however, you can get aerial view of the route, as if you were in a helicopter flying above the road.”

To use the service, users enter their starting point, destination, and mode of transport, then click on the ‘3D’ play button to start flying along the road.

“You can pause the flight at any time by clicking anywhere in the 3D view or on the pause button in the lower left,” says Yang.

“While the flight is paused, you can explore the surrounding area in 3D by clicking and dragging the map. When you are ready to resume the flight, simply click on the play button in the lower left of the 3D view.”

The new feature requires the Google Earth plug-in and is being rolled out gradually around the world, so some users may need to wait.