Google Maps Street View, Google’s endeavor to take ground-level, 360-degree photos of the whole world, celebrates its 15th birthday today.
To commemorate the occasion, the company is introducing a few new features.
It weighs less than 15 pounds. This means it can be shipped anywhere. This is especially handy when we work with partners around the world to capture imagery of traditionally under-mapped areas — like the Amazon jungle.
It’s extremely customizable. Previously, we needed to create an entirely new camera system whenever we wanted to collect different types of imagery. But now, we can add on to this modular camera with components like lidar — laser scanners — to collect imagery with even more helpful details, like lane markings or potholes. We can add these features when we need them, and remove them when we don’t.
It can fit on any car. Our new camera can be attached to any vehicle with a roof rack and operated right from a mobile device — no need for a specialized car or complex processing equipment. This flexibility will make collections easier for partners all over the world, and allow us to explore more sustainable solutions for our current fleet of cars — like plug-in hybrids or fully electric vehicles. You’ll start seeing our new camera in fun Google colors alongside our iconic Street View cars and trekkers next year.google
First and foremost, Google is making historical Street View data available on iOS and Android devices. The capability has long been available on desktop browsers, allowing you to enter Street View mode and then time travel via Google’s image archives. When you tap on a location to view Street View imagery, a “see more dates” button will display next to the photo’s current age, allowing you to browse all photographs for that location dating back to 2007. Google says the functionality will be available “starting today on Android and iOS globally,” though it will take some time to completely roll out, as with other Google product releases.
If you want to help Google with its plan to photograph the entire world, the company is launching “Street View Studio,” which it describes as “a new platform with all the tools you need to publish 360 image sequences quickly and in bulk.” The Street View app is still available for people who want to build a 360 photosphere using a regular smartphone camera, but Google envisions Street View Studio as a tool for people with consumer 360 cameras. Google has a store-style page that sells compatible 360 cameras, ranging from sub-$200 fisheye cameras to the $3,600 ball-shaped Insta360 Pro, which looks like something out of Star Wars.
Google will also unveil a new in-house camera designed particularly for Street View. According to the business, it is “roughly the size of a house cat” and weighs less than 15 pounds. The idea is to fit “all the power, resolution, and processing capabilities that we’ve built into an entire Street View car” into a small box that can be transported to underserved locations “like the Amazon jungle.”
Google already has a backpack-mounted “Trekker” Street View camera for hiking trailers, so this camera is intended to supplement its car fleet. Street View cars are large, rolling computers that are difficult to transport throughout the world, whereas this camera is entirely self-contained. It is readily fastened to a car’s roof racks and is controlled by a smartphone app. There is also a modular system for add-ons such as lidar.