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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Google Expands Flood and Wildfire Tracking to More Countries

A gaggle of new AI projects are coming soon from Google, including disaster monitoring tools and a service that uses machine intelligence to generate custom videos. The company announced the array of initiatives at its AI@ event this week.

The most practical development: Google is expanding its AI-powered disaster tracking and response systems. The company rolled out a wildfire tracking tool during the apocalyptic 2020 fire season. The tool aims to track wildfire movements in real time using satellite imagery, on-the-ground data, and AI predictions. Now, the feature is expanding across the US, Canada, Mexico, and Australia. It’s aimed at providing useful info for people in areas affected by fires who need up-to-the-second knowledge about where a blaze is moving and who it might affect. The tool will appear inside Google Maps, sending alerts to users who are nearby and showing them options for evacuation and shelter. Google is also using similar AI modeling to track flooding, and it has expanded its flood warning system to include 18 new countries across Africa, South America, and southeast Asia.

Google has also gotten deeper into the AI art-generation game with a new video creation tool that combines Google's Imagen image-generation platform and Phenaki's video generator. These platforms working in concert are able to spin up short bursts of high-resolution video from just a text prompt. The video-generation tool is not available to the public as a service yet, and Google hasn’t given an indication of when or if it might be. The news comes a little over a month after Meta announced a similar service called Make-a-Video. Both companies are keen to hop on the AI art craze, even if the prospect has proved controversial among artists.

Here’s some more news from the consumer products desk.

PS VR2 Preorders

Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg’s metavangelism, it may feel like VR for video games has fallen out of favor compared to other VR destinations like virtual offices or whatever Horizon Workrooms is. But now Sony wants to remind you that it also has a new VR headset. And this week, it announced when it will be released.

The long awaited PS VR2 headset will be out February 22 and available for preorder on November 15. It will cost $550. That’s more expensive than an actual PlayStation 5 console (depending on where you are), and the price does include the accompanying VR2 Sense controllers needed to operate games in the Sonyverse.

Altogether, the system shows a lot of promise for what VR gaming could be, assuming the games that have been announced for it are halfway decent. The PS VR2 headset will only work with the PlayStation 5. Sony also recently confirmed that games for the last-gen PS VR1 won’t work with this new headset.

Where’d I Go?

Google sure does like killing its own apps. This week, 9to5 Google uncovered that the company plans to add its stand-alone Street View app to its infamous boneyard in the coming weeks. The app let users add their own 3D photos to Street View, which Google could then use to map out places where its camera-clad cars and backpacks couldn’t reach.

The service isn’t going away entirely. It’ll still be available within Google Maps, minus a few features like Photo Paths, which let users upload 2D photos of their surroundings.

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Google is also finally putting Google Hangouts out to pasture. Hangouts has been limping along for months now, but it’s clear Google intends to put it out of its misery soon. Both these app executions seem to be part of an effort to consolidate Google’s many various apps and services. Back in August, Google also combined its two messaging services, Meet and Duo, into one more confusing app.


Since Elon Musk officially took control of Twitter last week, the platform has been in a state of flux—to put it mildly. Musk fired some of the company’s top executives and half the staff, and he has said users will soon have to start paying a monthly fee for features like verification. It’s all going about as chaotically as expected, and it's hard to tell at this point where Twitter is headed.

This week on the Gadget Lab podcast, WIRED’s platforms and power reporter Vittoria Elliot joins the show to try to make some sense of all the Twitter tumult.

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