April 18, 2012 at 2:33 PM ET
When you look down at the world from a mapping program like Google Earth, you're generally seeing the landscape from the point of view of a satellite or a plane doing flyover imagery. But Google recently added some photos using slightly older methods of flight: balloons and kites.
They collaborated with the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science and mapped up a few areas, like some parts of Oakland and Stanford University. You'll need to download Google Earth and download the KML file that contains the new info, but once you have, you'll be able to zoom in and see what the Stanford students were having for lunch.
The reason they did all this isn't that they're planning on floating balloons all over the globe, but as an experiment and in order to create an inexpensive toolkit for people to collect their own mapping data. You'll need about $100 and a camera, but then you'll be able to take pictures from a thousand feet in the air and stitch them into one big one.
You can buy one here. It includes a large reusable balloon, a thousand feet of line, special gloves and various other necessities for getting your camera up in the air.
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.