Google has spent a lot of time and human hours mapping some of the more remote areas of the globe with its Trekker program, and now users have a chance to go behind the scenes and learn more about both those places and the process. Google put up a new Behind The Scenes site for the Treks Street View project, complete with video, amazing images, maps and audio and visual tours.
Besides being an awesome time-killer for when you have some hours to spare, the Trek microsites give Google a way to show off a number of its products all in one place. It combines YouTube, Maps, Maps tours, HTML5 web technologies, slideshows and more, which also has the benefit of revealing some of the greater potential of Chrome as a browser.
Currently, the Street View Treks microsites cover the Burj Khalifa, Iqaluit, Mt. Everest, the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon Basin and the Kennedy Space Center. Additional tours for the Galapagos Islands and Venice are said to be “coming soon” by Google, too.
Remember that Google is looking for organizations to help out with the Google Trekker program, so your views could be among the next featured on these microsites. Sometimes it may be tempting to question the utility of Google’s more ambitious initiatives, but as these microsites show, they sure can paint a pretty picture.
Google today introduced 360-degree Street View imagery of all of the main floors of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. A few weeks ago, Google introduced Street View imagery for the world’s largest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, so adding this kind of imagery isn’t exactly new anymore. What’s different this time around, however, is that the Google Cultural Institute – in cooperation with the Eiffel Tower Operating Company — used this Street View imagery to create a number of online exhibitions about the tower.
These exhibitions feature over 50 archival images, plans, engravings and photos that, says Google, tell “the story of the Eiffel Tower’s development and social impact in the 19th century.” One of the highlights of this collection is a recording of Gustave Eiffel’s voice by Thomas Edison.
Sadly, it looks like Google only got a chance to take its Street View Trolley up the Eiffel Tower on a somewhat cloudy day, so the overall view isn’t quite as spectacular as it could have been.
Over the last few months, Google has been expanding Street View’s reach into a number of new locations ranging from underwater photography around the Great Barrier Reef to the Grand Canyon and numerous zoos, canals, abandoned islands and ski slopes around the world. Just last month, Google added close to 1,000 new Street View locations in Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America to its maps.
Google is trying hard to build out its Street View-style imagery of locales off the beaten path with its Trekker program. The Trekker, a roughly 40-pound backpack that has a camera-ridden sphere poking out over its wearer’s head, captures 360-degree fields of view which are then used to build interactive, first-person views of remote places like the Grand Canyon. Google is now looking for applicants to help it continue to expand its Trekker efforts.
The application is open to non-profits, tourism boards, government agencies, academic or research organizations or other groups interested in helping the search giant document the world. The applications will be reviewed over the next few months, and agencies selected will become part of Google’s pilot program, which is open to organizations around the world.
I got the chance to wear one of the Trekker packs at Google I/O this year, and to discuss the program with the tech’s co-creator, Steve Silverman. At the time, Silverman said that Google would be building out its Trekker program in the coming months, and it’s looking at outside partners to help with that, including the inaugural partner for this expansion, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. It makes sense that Google would turn to the people who know the terrain best to help them chart and capture Trekker Street View scenery, rather than trying to do it all themselves.
If they’re looking for anyone to help negotiate the wilds of Toronto’s dense urban jungle, sign me up, but this is more likely a job for those occupying greener spaces.
Google Adds 1,000 New Locations From Asia, Europe, Latin America, the U.S. and Canada To Street View
Google today launched a large update to Google Maps that adds more than 1,000 new locations from around the world to the service’s Street View feature. These include numerous locations that can’t be reached by car, including the cathedral of Seville, the canals of Copenhagen and the Singapore Zoo. Overall, it seems, this update focuses on locations from Asia, Europe, Latin America, the U.S. and Canada.
Google, of course, has long been expanding Street View’s reach beyond cities and rural streets, thanks to its backpack-like Trekker, tricycles and, most recently, its underwater Street View scooter. Today’s update, Google says, includes numerous historical landmarks and sports stadiums, but it’s also adding some ski slopes in Chile and other relatively unusual locations to its lineup.
Today’s large rollout hints at the fact that Google is speeding up its Street View imaging efforts. Until now, it would often announce some of these projects individually. Now, however, it’s adding a huge amount of locations from around the world in one launch, even though quite a few of them are probably a first for the Street View team.
All of this imagery, of course, is available on the web, as well as on Google Maps for Android and iPhone.
Google Takes Street View Trekker And Underwater Cameras To The Galapagos Islands, Coming To Google Maps Later This Year
Google today announced that it has been taking its Street View Trekker – the compact backpack version of its Street View cars – and its underwater Street View cameras to the Galapagos Islands and that it plans to make these images available on Google Maps later this year. The company worked together with the Charles Darwin Foundation, the Galapagos National Parks Directorate and, for the underwater survey, the Catlin Seaview Survey.
The Street View team, Google says, spent 10 days in the Galapagos to capture imagery from 10 locations that were selected by its partners. During these hikes, Google Maps project lead Raleigh Seamster says, the team “walked past giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies, navigated through steep trails and lava fields, and picked our way down the crater of an active volcano called Sierra Negra.”
Google, of course, has been taking the Trekker across the world already and most recently hiked around the Grand Canyon to take enough images for over 9,500 panoramas there and handed it over to a local hiker to get imagery of Canada’s Arctic territory.
The underwater part of the project, however, is maybe even more impressive. As Google revealed at I/O last week, the Catlin Seaview Survey currently has four underwater Street View cameras and its diver can cover about 2km during a single dive.
The Galapagos expedition, Seamster noted in today’s announcement, marks the first time the team has captured imagery from both land and sea at the same time.
Google impressed a lot of people when it debuted its Grand Canyon Street View imagery in October. The Trekker backpack used to capture that imagery, which is essentially a backpack-mounted version of the same all-seeing eye that sits atop the Google Street View car.
The roughly 40-pound backpack is not all that uncomfortable to wear, I found out when I slipped the Trekker on. It’s a little top-heavy, and I’m not sure I’d want to risk running at a brisk clip if I was using one out in the wild, but it’s really no heavier than a standard backpacker’s kit for a few days’ journey.
Silverman explained how the Trekker works, including how its camera sensor head gathers images and how those are then stored on a hefty solid state hard drive built into the backpack, where they can later be transferred back to Google’s servers to get started with the process of recreating a hike.
I asked Silverman whether we might see the Trekker make its way to the backs of other beings beyond humans, and he said that they are indeed mulling the idea of strapping versions of it to beasts of burden to help them continue to map the world in images. There are also plans in the works to mount it to remotely operated robots and small vehicles to help get imagery that otherwise wouldn’t be easily reachable by a human Trekker.
He said to expect plenty more to come from the Trekker team in terms of Street View imagery of some of the world’s most interesting – and most remote – locales. Combined with Google’s new underwater street view project, that means everyone can probably get a lot more familiar with a lot more of the world in the near future.
Google’s underwater Street View launched last September, but Google’s Ocean program actually began six years ago, when one of the founders of Keyhole (which, after being acquired by Google, later became Google Earth), was inspired to also look into mapping the ocean. For several years now Google has been mapping the oceans, but bringing Street View underwater is still very challenging.
“Our goal is to really make all of our maps data more comprehensive by adding more ocean data. We want to take you from your home to the turtle’s home,” Google’s Jennifer Austin Foulkes said. So far, Google has launched this for six locations, including Oahu, Maui and locations around the Great Barrier Reef.
Because there is a strong scientific component to this project, the team set up a strict protocol for taking this imagery. Richard Vevers, director of the Catlin Seaview Survey – Google’s partner in this project – said that the cameras his team uses for this project are very different from those used by Google’s other Street View vehicles. The team had to use wider-angle lenses, for example. Google’s underwater Street View camera has three cameras on its front and takes images every three seconds. One of the cameras points downward, because that’s how images during reef surveys have traditionally been taken. The back of the scooter features a tablet that can control the cameras.
During a typical dive, the divers cover about 2km and take 3,000 to 4,000 images per camera, and the team does three dives per day, each of which lasts about an hour. In total, the team has taken about 150,000 images so far, and Vevers expects this number to grow exponentially over the next few months. In the long run, the team hopes to create diver-less systems that can stay underwater for 12 hours or more. The technology is already available, but it needs to be adapted to the kind of camera system needed for Street View.
In addition to the usual cameras, the team is also testing stereo cameras to create 3D imagery and has recently experimented with doing underwater Hangouts and using Photo Spheres to engage the public.
Every camera system costs about $50,000, and four of them are currently in existence, though two of them haven’t been in the water yet.
To get this underwater data into Street View, Vevers used Google’s standard Business Photos tool. The actual location of the images, by the way, is triangulated. The images, it’s worth noting, are also freely available for scientists.
The team is focusing on the Americas right now, but plans to bring underwater Street View to all of the world’s oceans over the next three years (that’s obviously just a few locations – not all of the oceans…). Another focus for the team is getting more developers involved – both for crowdsourcing data and for developing better reef-recognition algorithms. The existing algorithms can only interpret images from a downward-facing camera, but the team is hoping to create tools for working with all of the data the cameras generate.
Given the threats to the ocean, there is obviously a serious side to this project, something Vevers noted during his talk. Street View, he argues, is an important tool to inform the public about the threats that the ocean’s face today. “People don’t want to protect anything they can’t see,” he said. Most people don’t dive, but there’s no reason why we can’t take them diving virtually. There is no point in doing science, Vevers argues, if it doesn’t get out to the public and policy makers.
We know that Google’s Street View team has been making its technology smaller and more mobile, especially when it comes to people snapping images for Google Maps. Today, the team has shared some imagery from Canada’s Arctic territory of Nunavut.
The difference is that, unlike with the Grand Canyon, the person carrying the Trekker on their back wasn’t a Google employee. It was a resident of Nunavut, Chris Kalluk, who works at a nonprofit organization called Nunavut Tunngavik, which is working along with Google to collect imagery and build more detailed maps of the Canadian Arctic.
Much like the Street View team did for its snowmobile mission during the Olympics, the Trekker has been prepped to handle below-freezing temperatures, which are the conditions in Canada’s Arctic about eight months of the year, Kalluk explains in the post: “Winter up here is a way of life. And the only way to truly understand it is to see it for yourself.”
Here’s what Kalluk had to share about his experience, the first Trekker expedition in Canada:
I’m wearing the backpack to collect Street View imagery as I walk to the shore of Frobisher Bay, where the wind is the strongest and you can see the tide piling up mountains of sea ice. On the way I’ll pass sled dogs tied up outside houses, yapping in anticipation of their next trip. And I may stop to check out an igloo, built by Inuit craftsmen using methods passed down over a millennia.
As part of its commitment to build a comprehensive and accurate map of Canada’s north, Google visited my home, Cambridge Bay, last August and published imagery of the trip that fall. But this visit to Iqaluit marks the first time the Google Maps team has ventured into an Arctic climate during the winter months, where average temperatures can dip below -30°C [-25°F].
Kalluk and Google Maps Project Lead Raleigh Seamster aren’t just snapping photos with a backpack. The pair spent time with members of the community to discuss how Google Maps would like to collect all of the information about Iqaluit. He says that they spent time with locals explaining Map Maker, the tool where citizens can participate in the creation and updating of Google Maps.
Google is trying to get imagery and information out of every nook and cranny of the globe, and you can imagine a day where we’ll all be able to set out to our favorite spots that haven’t been documented yet, and feed that information back to a global database. In essence, with the tools that Google Street View and Maps have created, we’re all Christopher Columbus, re-exploring and documenting what people have only visited and snapped photos of for themselves and friends for years.
“I like to think of it as our chance to give you the lead sled dog’s view,” Kalluk said. In case you never visit Nunavut, Street View is your way of beaming there and visiting. The imagery isn’t available yet, but if the 9,500 Grand Canyon shots are any indication, it’s going to be pretty amazing.