However much you travel the world, you will be hard-pressed to see as much of it as the combined forces of Google’s Street View fleet. The search firm’s employees have so far trawled more than five million miles across the planet, with a tripod-mounted camera capturing a 360 of its environment as the driver keeps his eyes on the road.
Google Street View is a technology featured in Google Maps and Google Earth that provides panoramic views from positions along many streets in the world. It was launched on May 25, 2007, in several cities in the United States, and has since expanded to include cities and rural areas worldwide.
Where available, Street View images appear after zooming in beyond the highest zooming level in maps and satellite images, and also by dragging a “pegman” icon onto a location on a map. When dragging the pegman icon, blue lines on the map showing Street View imagery will appear. Using the keyboard or mouse, the horizontal and vertical viewing direction and zoom level can be selected. A solid or broken line in the photo shows the approximate path followed by the camera car, and arrows link to the next photo in each direction. At junctions and crossings of camera car routes, more arrows are shown. By using Google Maps, users can turn on steroscopic 3D mode by right-clicking in Street View to get an anaglyph version of any Street View images. However, this mode requires users to wear red cyan glasses to see the 3D effects.
On November 21, 2008, Street View was added to the Maps application installed on the Apple iPhone. On December 10, 2008, Street View was added to the Maps application for S60 3rd Edition. Street View has now also been added to the BlackBerry and Windows Mobile versions of Google Maps. All versions of Google Maps for the Android operating system feature Street View, and the digital compass can be used to look around the locations.
Google Street View displays panoramas of stitched images taken from a fleet of specially adapted cars. Areas not accessible by car, like pedestrian areas, narrow streets, alleys and ski resorts, are sometimes covered by Google Trikes (tricycles) or snowmobiles. On each of these vehicles there are nine directional cameras for 360° views at a height of about 8.2 feet, or 2.5 meters, GPS units for positioning and three laser range scanners from Sick AG for the measuring of up to 50 meters 180° in the front of the vehicle.
These are used for recording a rough 3D model of the surroundings, enabling faux-3D transitions between distinct panoramas where the environment images are momentarily mapped onto this 3D model while being crossfaded to create an animated perspective change as the user travels from one panorama to another. There are also 3G/GSM/Wi-Fi antennas for scanning 3G/GSM and Wi-Fi hotspots. More recently, high quality images have been based on open source hardware cameras from Elphel.