Using GPS Devices with Google Earth
If you have a GPS (Global Position System) device, you can connect it to your computer and import your waypoint and track data into Google Earth. Note that this set of features is available to users of Google Earth Plus, Google Earth Pro and Google Earth EC, but not the free version (see Google Earth Products). Topics in this section include:
Google Earth currently supports most GPS devices from the following manufacturers:
The GPSBabel web site lists the devices officially supported by the Google Earth GPS import feature. You can try other devices, but they might not work correctly. If you're using a device that is not supported, you can try importing GPS data from the device to your computer as a .gpx or .loc file and then opening it in Google Earth (File > Open).
You need either a serial or USB cable to connect the GPS device to your computer. Typically, your device is sold with one type of cable. If your GPS device did not come with a cable, you can visit the manufacturer's web site to purchase the correct one for your model.
About GPS Points
When your GPS data is imported into Google Earth, it is categorized into three possible folders, depending upon the type of point. These folders are:
- Tracks - Tracks (or trackpoints) are the points automatically recorded by the GPS device periodically along the recorded route. They can be imported into the Google Earth application as paths.
- Waypoints - Waypoints are points entered manually by the user and typically marked with a name, such as "home" or "turnaround point."
- Routes - Route points are those points that the GPS device uses to creating the routing, such as when you instruct the device to "go to" a recorded point from another recorded point. Route points can contain multiple connected "go to" instructions. They can be imported into the Google Earth application as paths.
Importing GPS Data
Tip - If you have a .GPX file on your computer, you can import it by dragging and dropping the file into Google Earth.
Importing the data from your GPS to Google Earth is simple:
- If you are using a Garmin USB device and a Windows computer, please install the Garmin USB driver from the CD that came with your GPS device or download this driver from the Garmin website.
- Connect your device to the computer running Google Earth.
You can use either a serial cable or USB cable, depending upon which one came with your device.
- Turn on the GPS device. Once your device is on and activated, it is not necessary to wait until it connects to satellites.
- From the Tools menu, select GPS. The GPS window appears.
- Select the correct manufacturer type for your device.
- Under Import, Select the types of data you want to import.
- Under Options, choose your drawing preferences. Check Draw icons at track and route points if you want an icon to be displayed in the 3D viewer for every track/route point recorded by your GPS device. Check Draw lines for tracks and routes to draw each GPS track and route as a solid line.
- Check the Adjust altitude to ground height check box to adjust all recorded point to ground level, such as when importing a track taken on foot, car, or bike. However, if your GPS track was recorded while hang gliding or flying, make sure this option is not selected so that your points will appear as above-ground points.
- Click OK. When your GPS data is finished loading into Google Earth, a confirmation dialog box appears.
Your data appears in the Places panel with the label Garmin GPS Device or Magellan GPS Device, depending upon the device used (see Supported Devices). If you expand that folder, you can see the data sorted into the appropriate folders depending upon the type of data, as illustrated in the example below.
You can expand those folders and explore the information within as you would any other type of places data. This includes organizing, editing, sharing, saving, and more.
Note - If you receive a connection error, turn off the GPS device, turn it on again, and start again from Step 4 above.
Viewing Realtime GPS Information
If you have connected your portable computer to a GPS device, you can view GPS information in realtime. For example, you can view a live GPS track of your progress in a car on a laptop in Google Earth as you travel. To do this:
- Connect your GPS device and portable computer as described in steps 1-4 of Importing GPS Data.
- In the GPS dialog box, click the Realtime tab.
- Choose the appropriate options:
- Select protocol - If you don't know which one to use, choose NMEA.
- Track point import limit - This is the maximum number of points imported per poll of the device. A smaller number can result in faster data but a less accurate depicition of your journey, while a larger number can mean the opposite.
- Polling interval (seconds) - This is the frequency of which Google Earth collects data from the GPS device.
- Automatically follow the path - Check this to have the 3D viewer center on and follow the current realtime GPS track.
- Click Start to begin realtime GPS tracking.
Viewing a Timeline
If you have downloaded data that contains time information (for example, GPS tracks), you can view this information sequentially in Google Earth. For example, you can view GPS tracks that occurred within a specific time period and visually follow these tracks. To do this:
- If necessary, import the GPS data or other time-related data.
- In the Places panel, select this data. The time slider appears at the top of the 3D viewer with a time range that corresponds to the data you selected.
- Do any of the following:
- To re-define the time range of data displayed in the 3D viewer, drag the range markers (see below) to the right or left.
- To move the time range earlier or later, either drag the center tab of the range in the time slider or click the small white arrows near the ends of the time slider (see below).
- To play an animation of the sequence, click the Play button (see below). Note that this is only useful if only a portion of the data is defined in the time range.
Features of the Time slider include:
- Click these arrows to move the time range earlier or later.
- Drag these range markers to the right or left to re-define the time range of data displayed.
- Click this to play an animation of the sequence. This works best if you move the range markers to define a time range smaller than the whole set.
- Click this to set options for the time slider.
- Drag this to move the time range earlier or later.
Note: The time slider is not available when you record movies.
Setting Timeline Options
You can set options for the timeline display feature. To do this:
- In the time slider, click the clock icon (see above). The Time dialog box appears. Options include:
- Display Time In - Choose the appropriate type of displayed time.
- Clamp to beginning of window - Check this to keep the beginning of the displayed time range glued to the left side of the time slider. This helps you display a time sequence while leaving the earliest data visible throughout the animation.
- Animation speed - Use this slider to set the speed of the animation that occurs when you click the play button on the time slider (see above).
- Repeat mode - Choose how you would like to play the animation: Wrap (play continuously), Once (play one time), Bounce (play back and forth continuously).
- When you are finished, click OK.