Category Archives: Official Google Blog

Insights from Googlers into our topics, technology, and the Google culture

Meet the fifth grader turning water bottles into light bulbs to brighten communities

Schools in Latin America and around the world are searching for ways to take student impact beyond the classroom. In Mexico, we wanted to explore how teachers and students are using technology to empower a rising generation of innovative changemakers—and this week, we’re sharing some of the stories we found. Tune into the hashtag #innovarparami to see how education leaders in Latin America are thinking about innovation.

Twelve-year-old Bryan Gonzalez was traveling through a neighborhood near his school when the unlit windows of several homes caught his attention. When his parents and teachers explained to him that those homes lacked electricity, he started to search for information about access to lighting in communities in Mexico and around the globe. His research led him to discover that nearly 15 percent of the world’s population lives without light.

Believing that every community deserves access to commodities as basic as lighting, Bryan decided to turn his annual school science project into a mission to defeat darkness. With the support of his peers, teachers and parents, Bryan began to brainstorm sustainable, affordable methods to illuminate the world around him.

His solution? Converting water bottles into light bulbs!
This fifth grader uses water bottles to brighten communities. #innovarparami

Bryan recently implemented his prototype in the field for the first time, and we captured the experience as he began to install his homemade light bulbs in the very houses that had initially inspired him to take on his project. In the moments after Bryan installed his lightbulbs, community members began to process the impact of Bryan’s invention. Families reflected on the difficulties inherent in relying on candlelight to assist kids with homework, the daily pressure to finish working by sunset because no work could get done in the dark, and what unlit houses and streets meant for the physical safety of children and parents alike. “Things are going to be different now. This 12-year-old boy has changed this family’s life,” said Doña Sofía, a mother and grandmother, as she embraced him.

Brian-18.jpg
This image was captured just moments after Doña Sofía’s house had lighting for the very first time, thanks to Bryan’s efforts.

Seeing his efforts materialize into real-world impact has been extremely gratifying for Bryan, but he knows this is just the beginning. As Bryan sets his eyes on new horizons, he hopes to start inspiring other young people around the world to implement the prototype in homes that lack electricity in their own communities.

Your age doesn’t matter. Your idea does. Bryan

Bryan’s definition of innovation is “finding creative ways to help a community solve their problems.” Follow the hashtag #innovarparami to see how other people are defining—and cultivating—innovation.

There’s no place like home, in Google Earth

When you opened Google Earth for the very first time, where did you go? For most people there's a common destination: Home. The definition of "home" changes by country, culture and climate. So as part of the relaunch of Google Earth back in April, we introduced This is Home, an interactive tour to five traditional homes around the world. You could step inside the colorful home of Kancha Sherpa in Nepal, or head to the desert and learn how an extended drought changed the lives of the Bedouin people.


Since then, we’ve traveled to dozens more homes across six continents and today we’re bringing 22 new homes and cultures to explore in Google Earth.
Kenya
This is Ngaramat Loongito, Kenya, home to a Maasai community. Photo courtesy of Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust

Start with a Torajan home, built to withstand Indonesia’s wet season. Then head to Fujian Province, China, to peek inside the immense walls the Hakka people built to keep away bandits, beasts and warlords. See the shape-shifting yurt homes Mongolian country-dwellers use to move where their herds roam. Visit a village on Madagascar’s southwest coast where the Vezo people live off the third largest coral reef system in the world. Finally, see how a Paiwan shaman has integrated her spirituality into the walls of her home in Taiwan.

Splash

To tell these stories, we worked with partners and communities to digitally preserve homes of different cultures in Street View. Many of these homes belong to indigenous people, such as The Garasia people of India, the Chatino people of Mexico, the Torajan people of Indonesia, and the Māori people of New Zealand. Their homes represent their unique cultural identity and ways of relating to the environment.


Some of the images and stories provide a snapshot in time of cultures, who face economic, environmental and population pressures. For example, the Inuit people of Sanikiluaq have been building igloos for schoolchildren to learn in for decades, but in recent winters, conditions haven’t been cold enough to create the right type of snow. It’s important to document these lifestyles now, because some may be disappearing.

Thank you to the families who shared their homes, their customs and their culture with the world!


Around the Globe – Improved Operations for Girl Scouts Japan

For this segment of G4NP Around the Globe, we’re highlighting Girl Scouts of Japan: a nonprofit that supports more than 30,000 young women across the country with its vibrant community and empowering programs. With such a large network of members, the nonprofit needed technology to effectively keep members updated on events, ensure personal information stays secure, and manage their Local Council’s communications. The suite of tools provided by Google for Nonprofits has allowed Girl Scouts of Japan to improve their productivity and increase their member base, giving them more time to focus on supporting young women.  

Operations - G Suite

GSuite has helped Girl Scouts of Japan operate more efficiently and provide a positive experience for their members. More than 7,000 attendees signed up through Google Forms for e-learning programs about safety procedures before they headed off on a scouting adventure. Google Sheets helped the chapter to quickly access and organize this data. And by migrating to Gmail, the nonprofit feels secure with their custom Google privacy settings and the tool’s ability to weed out spam and malware.

Girl Scouts of Japan has also used technology to revolutionize a central component of the global Girl Scout organization: badges. Typically, Girl Scouts can earn woven badges for their vests by completing tasks or trainings. With the help of Google tools, Girl Scouts of Japan has created an interesting twist to this tradition: using Forms to create quizzes on their Google Site and reward women with digital badges.  

Furthermore, the nonprofit creates engaging content with Google Sites and shares their manuals and materials on Google Drive so each Local Council can always access the most updated trainings. With G Suite scaled to the entire organization, the nonprofit seamlessly keeps all communications and information safely stored in one place—allowing them to spend less time handling administrative tasks, and more freedom to plan engaging events.

Girl Scouts Japan - Virtual Tour of WAGGGS World Centers

Girl Scouts Japan - Virtual Tour of WAGGGS World Centers

Visibility - Google AdGrants, YouTube, Google Maps

Girl Scouts of Japan recognized an opportunity to connect with their young target audience by building a strong online presence. Ad Grants helps them reach new members with over 3,000 monthly visitors to their site—a 500% increase in just two months. To further enhance their online engagement, the nonprofit created a YouTube channel to showcase their thriving community and impactful programs with original content. Their videos showcase the strength of their community and the empowering programs they provide. And with Google Maps, members can easily find events happening nearby, resulting in over 18,000 views about event information.

Lastly, to spread awareness and encourage women to get involved, Girl Scouts of Japan uses Google Earth to provide a global view of their expansive network. Using instructions from Earth Outreach tutorials, they created this Virtual Tour to share with members to encourage a global perspective and community of Girl Scouts.

From G Suite to YouTube, Girl Scouts of Japan has successfully harnessed the power of technology to cultivate a strong community of women who support each other and grow together. Read the full story by visiting our Community Stories page on our Google for Nonprofits site.

//

To see if your nonprofit is eligible to participate, review the Google for Nonprofits eligibility guidelines. Google for Nonprofits offers organizations like yours free access to Google tools like Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Ad Grants, YouTube for Nonprofits and more. These tools can help you reach new donors and volunteers, work more efficiently, and tell your nonprofit’s story. Learn more and enroll here.

Footnote:  Statements are provided by Nonprofits that received products as part of the Google for Nonprofits program, which offers products at no charge to qualified nonprofits.

Daydream brings you inside Vogue Supermodel Closets

Everyone has items of clothing that hold sentimental value. For Kendall Jenner, it could be that pair of boots that Kanye got for her or the matching snuggies that the Jenner/Kardashian clan wore on Christmas morning. Supermodels, they’re just like us! (Minus the boots gifted by Kanye part).

In partnership with Condé Nast Entertainment and Vogue, we created a VR series to give you a peek into the closets of models and hear about the stories (and sentimental value) behind their favorite articles of clothing. “Supermodel Closets” was created to celebrate Vogue’s 125th anniversary and their upcoming September issue. In the first of five episodes, you’ll hear from Kendall Jenner and see the Christmas snuggies for yourself.

This is one of the first productions to use YI HALO cameras, which are the next generation of Jump cameras for high quality, professional VR capture. You can look around (and even up!) thanks to the up camera and immersive 4k stereoscopic capture. Julina Tatlock, executive producer for 30 Ninjas, was able to easily use Jump even in tight spaces in each closet. Combined with unique graphics and post-production elements, this brings you even closer to the clothes.

VogueBTS

If you’ve got Cardboard or Daydream View at home, check out the first episode of Supermodel Closet Secrets on Vogue’s YouTube channel, with more episodes available in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for more Daydream and Jump productions coming this fall.

It must be nice to have Hamilton on your phone

HAMILTON fans got a treat last Friday when the team behind the broadway hit released … Wait for It … an app! Available on Android and iOS, the app lets you enter the #Ham4Ham lottery more easily and has fun features for the biggest HAMILTON fans out there. It was also one of the first apps to be built with Firebase, Google’s mobile development platform to handle the backend and infrastructure, as well as Flutter, a new UI toolkit to make it easy and fast to build high-performance, modern, beautiful apps for iOS and Android.

To learn more about how the app was built, and why the HAMILTON team chose to use Flutter and Firebase, we sat down fan to fan with Mike Karns, HAMILTON’s director of social media, and David DeRemer from POSSE, who helped build the HAMILTON app.

Seth: What made you decide to build and launch a mobile app?

Mike: We’re always looking for opportunities to create a unique experience for the HAMILTON community, whether or not they’re able to be in the theatre each night. This app expands our presence in digital space and brings fans closer to HAMILTON.

How did you decide which features to include?

Mike: It started as a way for people to enter the HAMILTON lottery, and we brainstormed more ideas from there. Because HAMILTON has broken the confines of normal Broadway scope and audience, we’ve been able to build a really diverse fanbase in terms of age, location, etc. So all of our ideas served the purpose of giving those fans ways to connect with HAMILTON in more real ways.

David: It was all about providing access. HAMILTON is in such high demand, yet so many people love it and it’s so important from a historical and artistic perspective. How do make sure the HAMILTON community doesn’t feel like an exclusive club that requires thousands of dollars to be in? That’s ultimately what the lottery is for, and we’re improving the experience. Before you had to go the website every day and re-enter your info—now you can get a reminder and then enter in one tap.

Then there are the other features like shareable stickers with lyrics and HAMILTON emojis, #HamCams (HAMILTON-themed photo filters), a merch store, and exclusive content from cast members that make it even more fun. We wanted to go beyond the lottery and keep things interesting for someone who might have tickets to see the show a year from now. And we’ve got a lot of ideas for more features to make sure it’s still compelling even in five or seven years.

Hamilton App.png

How did you decide to use Flutter to build and manage your app?

Mike: We knew we’d have to build this app quickly, while also making sure that HAMILTON was accessible to everyone. To democratize the brand, there was never any question that we’d have to build an app that was available on both Android and iOS.

David: That’s why we decided to use Flutter, a new modern, reactive UI toolkit that is portable across iOS and Android. Flutter allows us to have a less complicated codebase, which means we can be more efficient and keep parity between platforms.

Because Flutter is new, this was also a unique opportunity to collaborate with Google to improve the Flutter SDK. We provided a lot of feedback and bug reports throughout the development process! The result is something really unique—I don't think there are many other apps that use this technology yet. And not too many companies would have had the willingness to work with us and take a risk like that. It really ties into the HAMILTON idea of not throwing away your shot! By the way, developers can even find some HAMILTON easter eggs in the Flutter documentation.

And what about Firebase?

David: Firebase was also a critical component building a great app for our fans. With Firebase, we didn’t have to worry about setting up and maintaining servers. Instead, we were able to spend more time designing beautiful UIs and testing new interactions. In addition, a key feature of the app is the ticket lottery, which offers fans a chance to get tickets to the constantly sold-out HAMILTON show. We used Cloud Functions for Firebase to help coordinate the lottery workflow between the mobile app, custom business logic, and partner services.

What does success look like for you?

David: The lottery is the number one feature, so if the lottery works better, that will be a success. Success is also determined by the percentage of people have an issue and how many bugs are there, and if it scales. And I just hope that it helps fans connect to HAMILTON.

Mike: Lin-Manuel Miranda frequently says to his fans, "Here, I made this for you...". We’ll feel that we've accomplished our goal when fans everywhere are using this app to share their passion for the show in a different ways.

Finally, we couldn’t let you go without asking. What is your favorite HAMILTON character, song or quote?

David: One of my favorite characters is the King of England, he he cracks me up. I know it’s a weird choice, but the way they portray him is incredibly clever and funny. His “awesome, wow” line is my favorite.

Mike: Aaron Burr's line "I am inimitable, I am an original," most exemplifies the work my team and I try to do every day with HAMILTON. Our challenge is to create content and products that live up to the level of what Lin has created.

A Megamovie volunteer on snapping photos and contributing to science

On August 21—for the first time in 100 years—a total solar eclipse will cross the the United States.

Last week we shared an interview with Vivian White, who is coordinating a mighty team of volunteers capturing photos of the eclipse. In collaboration with UC Berkeley, the Eclipse Megamovie project will take these photos and algorithmically align and stitch them together to create a continuous view of the eclipse: the Eclipse Megamovie.

Today we’ll hear from a volunteer whose contributions will make Megamovie possible. By day, Steven Madow works as a product analyst for Shop Disney Parks (the app and website that let you buy as much Disney swag as your heart desires), and for the last 12 years, videography and photography have been his passion projects. Now he’s bringing his passion to Megamovie.

Keyword: How did you hear about this project, and how did you get involved?

Steven: I listen to NPR a lot, and they talked about Megamovie on two of my favorite shows—Planetary Radio and Science Friday—which got me interested. According to my fiancée, I’ve been talking about this eclipse since 2015, so I guess I’ve been excited for it for a while!

sm
Steven and his telescope

Where are you going to watch? And what will you do when you get there?

I’m heading to Madras, OR, where there’s the lowest probability of cloud cover on the path of totality. It seemed like a good excuse for a trip! I’m bringing two cameras—a Panasonic and a Nikon—to capture photos for Megamovie, as well as a couple other cameras I'm planning to use just for my own photos. I can connect these cameras to a telescope (which tracks the sun), and it’s all automated. I’ve heard that watching the eclipse is like being in 360 degrees of a sunset, so the automation will allow me to actually watch and enjoy the eclipse.

How long have you been interested in astronomy?

I like outdoorsy things and have always been interested in natural events. I’m from Baltimore but went to college in Florida, and when I first saw a rocket launch from a balcony 60 miles away, I thought, “Wow, that’s so cool. I have to learn more about this.” Since then I’ve seen dozens of rocket launches up close, as well as amazing shots of night launches, which inspired me to make the jump to more serious camera gear. I got into drones before they were called drones—they were called “quadcopters” then—and I started making videos as a side project. People saw my work and started hiring me to make more videos.

What kind of prep work do Megamovie volunteers have to do?

Volunteers attend webinars and need a certain level of photography gear. We’ve been doing practice tests—shooting the moon and sun—and testing out a special uploader that was created for this project. It was created for different camera types and allows for uploading with very low bandwidth, which is key since most of us will be using heavily overloaded cell networks.

Have you been able to connect and create a community with other citizen scientists through this project?

There are volunteer forums where you can ask questions about all aspects of planning—traveling with equipment, traffic predictions, image uploading and everything else imaginable.

Through a forum I met Xavier Jubier, the creator of Solar Eclipse Maestro, an eclipse photography automation program, and worked with him to add support for Panasonic cameras (which I’m using during the eclipse). There were a lot of tests and back-and-forth on email, but now a few of the Panasonic cameras are supported and I’ve been able to teach other volunteers how to use the software.

So people share expertise but they also get to know each other. I started a thread called "Introductions,” asking people to reply with a few simple things about themselves including why they are interested in the project. It has 114 replies (114 new people I’ve gotten to know!), and most of them—like me—are psyched to contribute to a larger scientific cause.

Type less, talk more

Using your voice to dictate a message can be up to three times faster than typing. With this in mind, today we’re bringing voice typing (aka talking to your phone instead of typing) to 30 languages and locales around the world, covering more than a billion people. With this update, Google’s speech recognition supports 119 language varieties, in Gboard on Android, Voice Search and more. And now in the U.S. in English, you can use use voice dictation to express yourself with emoji.

Bringing voice input to more global users

To honor languages around the world, speech recognition will support ancient languages such as Georgian, which has an alphabet that dates back to the 10th century. We’re also adding Swahili and Amharic, two of Africa's largest languages, as well as many Indian languages on our quest to make the internet more inclusive.
speech

For your reference, here's the full list of newly supported languages and locales:

  • Amharic (Ethiopia)
  • Armenian (Armenia)
  • Azerbaijani (Azerbaijani)
  • Bengali (Bangladesh, India)
  • English (Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania)
  • Georgian (Georgia)
  • Gujarati (India)
  • Javanese (Indonesia)
  • Kannada (India)
  • Khmer (Cambodian)
  • Lao (Laos)
  • Latvian (Latvia)
  • Malayalam (India)
  • Marathi (India)
  • Nepali (Nepal)
  • Sinhala (Sri Lanka)
  • Sundanese (Indonesia)
  • Swahili (Tanzania, Kenya)
  • Tamil (India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia)
  • Telugu (India)
  • Urdu (Pakistan, India)

To incorporate 30 new language varieties, we worked with native speakers to collect speech samples, asking them to read common phrases. This process trained our machine learning models to understand the sounds and words of the new languages and to improve their accuracy when exposed to more examples over time.

These new languages are also available starting today in Cloud Speech API and will soon be available across other Google apps and products, including the Translate app. To enable Voice Typing in your keyboard, install Gboard from the Play Store and pick your language (press the G in the suggestion strip and select the Settings wheel). Then just tap the microphone to start speaking. To enable Voice Search, open the Google app and pick your language in the Voice settings menu (tap the top-left menu and go to Settings, then pick Voice and select your language).

Speak your emoji

In addition to drawing or searching for your favorite emoji, in English in the U.S. you can now say something like “winky face emoji” to express yourself  😉. Or even “Colbert emoji” to your friends when the occasion calls. We will be bringing this to more languages soon!

#teampixel becomes one with nature

Looking for a breath of fresh air? You came to the right place. This week #teampixel is becoming one with nature and capturing everything from surreal sunrises to the scenic views outside their tents. Check out another round of stellar contributions, pitch a tent and celebrate the final weeks of summer with us.

Exploring strategies to decarbonize electricity

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and the way we generate and use electricity now is a major contributor to that issue. To solve it, we need to find a way to eliminate the carbon emissions associated with our electricity as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

Many analysts have come up with a number of possible solutions: renewable energy plus increased energy storage capacity, nuclear power, carbon capture and sequestration from fossil fuels, or a mixture of these. But we realized that the different answers came from different assumptions that people were making about what combination of those technologies and policies would lead to a positive change.

To help our team understand these dynamics, we created a tool that allows us to quickly see how different assumptions—wind, solar, coal, nuclear, for example—affect the future cost to generate electricity and the amount of carbon dioxide emitted.

We created a simplified model of the electrical grid, where demand is always fulfilled at least cost. By “least cost,” we mean the cost of constructing and maintaining power plants, and generating electricity (with fuel, if required). For a given set of assumptions, the model determines the amount of generation capacity to build and when to turn on which type of generator. Our model is similar to others proposed in other research, but we’ve simplified the model to make it run fast.

We then ran the model hundreds of thousands of times with different assumptions, using our computing infrastructure. We gather all of the runs of the model and present them in a simple web page. Anyone —from students to energy policy wonks—can try different assumptions and see how those assumptions will affect the cost and CO2. The web UI is available for you to try: you can explore the how utilities decide to dispatch their generation capacity, then can test different assumptions. Finally, you can compare different assumptions and share them with others.

1

We’ve written up the technical details of the model in this paper. In case you want to change the assumptions in the model, we are also releasing the code on Github. The paper shows how the cost of generation technologies change as a function of the fraction of demand that they fulfill. The paper also discusses the limitations and validity of the model.

One interesting conclusion of the paper: if we can find a zero-carbon, 24x7 electricity source that costs about $2200/kW to build, it can displace carbon emission from the electricity grid in less than 27 years. We hope that the tool and the paper help people understand their assumptions about the future of electricity, and stimulate research into climate and energy.

Daydream Summer Sale

Take a break from the summer heat and jump into virtual reality. Starting today until August 17, you can grab some of our favorite Daydream apps for up to 60% off.

No matter where you are this summer, make your own adventure with two of our favorite adventure apps:  

Lola and the Giant: Embark on an journey full of puzzles and fantastic creatures, and download the companion app to play with a friend.

LolaGif

Along Together: Explore extraordinary worlds and use your Daydream controller to make new paths when there are none to follow.

AlongGif

Want to stay sharp over summer? Check out three of our top puzzle apps:

Mekorama :  Help B, a little robot, find his way home by solving different puzzles.
mekogif

Claro: Travel to a zen-like world where you can manipulate the sun to grow a tree in each of 38 different puzzles.

ClaroGif

Keep Talking & Nobody Explodes : Race against the clock to defuse bombs with a friend.

KeepTalkingGif

Feeling competitive? Battle your enemies in beautiful, dynamic and otherworldly settings:

Battle Planet:  You're alone on a micro-planet. Defend yourself against a gigantic army of enemies.
BattlePlanetGif

Wands: Challenge other Wielders with your own set of spells and skills.

WandsGif

Toy Clash: Your desk has been invaded! Use your toys and magic to defend your towers.

ToyClashGif

Feeling artsy? Grab a comfy chair and let your inner sculptor shine with SculptrVR. You can build incredible worlds in VR with an entire 3D canvas at your disposal.

SculptrVRGif

Check out all the apps on sale on Google Play or your Daydream app.