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Tech Report – Google's Street View

By Michael Connolly

This week, Google announced that it had included Hawaii in its Street View project, making it the 50th and final state to be photographed and linked to its Google Maps program.

Launched in May 2007, Street View allows users to explore the world through photographs taken at street level. At the time of launch, coverage was limited to just 5 U.S. cities but has since expanded to include tens of millions of images from across the U.S. and almost a dozen other countries around the world.

Google collects these images using special cameras and equipment that capture and match images to a specific location using GPS devices. Once images are captured, they are "sewn" together to create a 360° panoramic view. Faces and license plates are blurred to respect people's privacy before the views are served and become available in Google Maps.

To see how it works in practice, log on to Google Maps and type a location into the search box. You can type in your home street address or a famous location like Times Square, New York. Use the vertical zoom toolbar to focus in on a precise street address or an intersection.

You then click on "Pegman", the little yellow figure that sits at the top of the zoom bar. Drag him onto the map, using the little dotted circle to drop him right where you want him. For Times Square, use the intersection of 42nd Street and 7th Avenue. Hey presto! A stunning 360° view of a bustling Times Square will appear.

I tried it for my home address, which is on a quiet rural street in Westchester, NY, and was greeted with a perfect image of the house and my surrounding neighbors!

The scope of the Street View project is breathtaking, photographing and digitally mapping images from almost every street in America. And Google isn't finished yet. They have developed a more mobile Trike that can venture off-road into places that their vans and cars couldn't go. They even ran a contest to find the most popular points-of-interest for the Trike and received over 25,000 suggestions!

If you find the idea of photographing every street in America a little creepy, Google is quick to point out some of the many personal and business uses of Street View: showing friends and family members where you live, checking on driving directions, previewing vacation accommodation, showing real estate listings, scouting event locations.

For Google, it proves once again that no project is too big for the Silicon Valley giant. Whether it's photographing every street in the world or digitally scanning every book that's ever been written, Google is at the front of the line saying: Yes, it can be done!  

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