Another intriguing use of Google Earth: to map statistical likelihood of car crashes, from Ohio State University. Interesting stuff, though it doesn’t explore what I think is the key factor in crashes: unpredictability. In a place like the UK everyone follows strict rules (supposedly), so any deviation is unpredictable and therefore likely to cause an accident. In a place like Indonesia the only predictable element is that drivers won’t be predictable, so other drivers allow for odd behavior. Statistically, there should be many more crashes in a place like Jakarta than there are. Why? Because everyone knows other drivers will do weird things, and so they’re ready for them.
What makes this model novel is that scientists have now combined the statistical software with Google Earth–a program that offers an interactive map of the entire globe–to map the results as color-coded lines. Google Earth is able to perform this function because it reads the output from the statistical model in KML files; much as a Web browser reads HTML files, the KML files tell the program where on the planet to draw lines or place images, explains Holloman.