Putting Google maps to good use

Awhile back I posted a note about how creepy Google maps can be.  However, I have found a use for them after all, despite their creepiness.  I recently created a new course here at Saint A’s that deals with how physics is used in forensic science (so the course is titled Forensic Physics).  I then read this interesting article about how GPS units were being used to map accident scenes.  So, always up for a challenge, I decided to incorporate this with our study of automobile dynamics.  Specifically, we study how one can approximate travel speeds from skid marks.  So we headed over to an empty parking lot (after clearing it with public safety) and I created a nice set of skid marks on a slight rise (1º).  The students then measured the length of the skid marks, measured the slope, and took GPS readings (including elevation) for both ends of the skid marks.  While the GPS was not particularly relevant to this task (it is better suited for larger debris fields) they at least got the sense of how to incorporate it.  Back in the lab we brought up Google Maps and I showed them how to use the position finder and distance calculator to confirm their field readings and to show them how to map debris for an accident site.  It was pretty fun and now I feel less reticent about the existence of Google maps.

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3 Responses to “Putting Google maps to good use”

  1. Please tell me that the course wasn’t entirely motivated by the popularity of CSI. On the other hand it does sound fun, or at least more fun than learning about the twice contracted Bianchi identity.

  2. quantummoxie Says:

    Actually, the course was motivated by the fact that we have had (for many years) a Forensic Science program run by our Departments of Chemistry, Biology, and Criminal Justice. I decided it was high time the Physicists got in on the fun (actually, one of students suggested it). I always throw in a bit of quantum cryptography at the end along with some espionage-related things since I have a spy fetish.

    Oo, Bianchi identities! Why are you looking at those? Gravity-related stuff I assume? I just calculated a Ricci scalar the other day. Much, much less tedious than the Christoffel symbols. Blech.

  3. I’m not looking at them anymore. I did theoretical physics in college, so spent most of my fourth year learning differential geometry.

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