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How Google Street View Keeps an Eye on Things Where There Are No Streets (Video) 52

Posted by Roblimo
from the we're-just-curious-not-snoopy-or-evil dept.
It's not called Google Grand Canyon View, but Street View can show you what the canyon looks like even though there are no streets there -- or in the Meteor Crater or thousands of other places Google Street View Cars or tricycles or other vehicles can't go. How? With a 40 pound, human-carried version of the camera rig in the cars, complete with GPS and a "pause" button in case the human motive power system needs to take a break. But, asks Slashdot's Tim Lord, what about new, small cameras? Like GoPro? Don't they make the Trekker rig kind of obsolete? Well... Google's always working on "new and improved" everything, so the next version of the Trekker is likely to be kind of interesting.

Tim:So Steve, you are standing next to a piece of equipment which is called what?

Steve:So this is ourTrekker.Let me present it to you. So theTrekkeris our Street View camera that gets to go everywhere cars can’t.So it is designed for all that brown space or green space on the planet.It is the exactly the same camera geometry as the streetview cars and it is part of our effort to make Google Maps the most comprehensive, accurate and easy-to-use maps anywhere.

Tim:Now in a car you’ve got plentiful power, you have lots of room, and you don’t have to think so much about weight.In this case, you got those three things going on.How do you account for enough power, how long can it run, how do you do that?

Steve:So this system, what we did is we got rid of the steel as much as possible, replaced it with aluminum.We have also lightweighted the aluminum because we don’t have to worry about running into trees at 50 miles an hour with this.You can also see that we’ve shortened it and we’ve made it sit on top of a person, and down in this part of the box, we have a smaller computer, because we are collecting at slower speeds.And this is our battery box. So we have lithium ion batteries in here. They are rechargeable, they are good for eight hours.We store data onto to a 488 gig solid state drive. We have GPS location solution, just like the cars, and we have a navigation system inside of our camera sensor.

Tim:Now how much does the whole rig weigh?

Steve:So this is a light [expedition] weight of 42 pounds. It is something you notice when you have it on, but after a while, you just adjust to it.

Tim:What are some of the places that you have been able to go with this rig, that you couldn’t go with the car, or the other things you got the cameras on now?

Steve:So we’ve been to a lot of places while we were testing, every place you can imagine walking.Our first big expedition that was public was to the Grand Canyon.So we took twoTrekkersto the bottom of the Grand Canyon, spent the night, came back up.We did the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We also went to Meteor Crater and walked into the bottom of the crater which is not accessible to the public, but thanks to Google you can go there now.

Tim:Is this light enough to climb on Everest with it yet?

Steve:It actually as far as expedition weights, it is about half of what a typical expedition backpack would be in terms of weight – it is 42 pounds.But the form factor is a little difficult, and so we would only go places that are safe.So the upper part of Everest, it is not suitable for that.Environmentally, this camera could go anywhere, it can go to Death Valley, it can go to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, it could go to the top of Everest, it would still function fine.We tested it from -30 degrees C to +60 degrees C.

Tim:How long did this take to develop?

Steve:So this development is like a lot of stuff at Google, it grew on the tails of our other Street View development. So over the last year, it has really come in to its production status.And we are deploying these all over the world.

Tim:Now with things like GoPro cameras and a lot of other advances in optics and obviously in storage, what would you do now if you were to rebuild this at this moment?

Steve:So it is funny, it is a really interesting question.So GoPro is a fantastic solution, but it is different than this.So people have come to expect Street View quality out of all of our imagery.These are custom lenses, these are 8-element glass lenses, super low-flare design, really hard to build – you can’t buy them.The sensors behind them are 5 megapixel cameras so we would increase that to a higher density camera that is more modern; here we are writing to a buffer memory but now we could write direct to disk, so we could get rid of most of this copper the camera electronics. I can probably reduce the weight by about 50 percent.I can reduce this volume by about 50 percent, and I can write direct to disk and probably cut the battery size in half.

Tim:Wow.

Steve:So we are really excited to do that.That will probably be our next generation of this.

Tim:Finally, could you show me how does a human put this on his back?

Steve:So we generally do this with two people, but it is something you can do with one.So it is 42 pounds, it is a little tippy, so we just stabilize it.Put the straps on.Do a little adjusting.

Tim:Everything but a water bottle.

Steve:So we actually have a water bottle, it is just not attached to the rig for today.Not too thirsty here.

Tim:One more question.How do you know that it is working as you are doing it?You are not wearing a headpiece or anything?

Steve:So good question.Normally we would have this.There is a USB tether to an Android device, I don’t have it on at the moment, but this Android device it is a simple Android app, started up it says connected to Trekker, and I can hit pause, or I can hit run, it is a very very simple interface. It will give me test images from all of the cameras, low resolution, and it will also tell me the status of the battery remaining battery life, remaining disk storage and if there is any problem with the system.But generally, we turn it on, we put this away and we walk.

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How Google Street View Keeps an Eye on Things Where There Are No Streets (Video)

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