In 2012, Google introduced the first Street View Trekker, effectively taking its powerful Street View system to places accessible only on foot, such as mountain trails, national parks, ruins, and inside castle and museums – to give a few examples.
The Android-powered backpack system weighed 18 kilograms (about 40 pounds) and came equipped with fifteen 5-megapixel cameras for a seamless 360-degree experience.
It also included a hard drive for onboard storage, and a twin-battery setup good enough to power an all-day walkathon.
Now, more than six years on, based on feedback from partners like “tourism boards, airports and transit operators,” Google finally unveiled an upgraded version of the Street View Trekker on Tuesday (Dec 18).
“Over the years, we’ve gathered feedback from people and our partners who have used the Trekker around the world,” Danny Cheung, Technical Program Manager for Street View, wrote in a Tuesday blog post.
The new backpack’s ‘sleeker design’ and reduced weight makes it easier to carry about, while the updated camera system, with increased aperture and higher resolution sensors, promises “sharper imagery.”
“Like previous Trekker generations, the new version can be put on cars, boats or even ziplines,” Cheung said.
“This helps when capturing hard-to-access places, or when building maps for developing countries and cities with complex structures,” he wrote.
Although heavier and bulkier, the previous generation Street View Trekker produced some amazing 360-degree imagery over the years, which the company made accessible throughout the world on Google Maps.
“From climbing 3,000 feet up El Capitan in Yosemite to floating the canals of Venice to exploring the ancient city of Petra, people and organizations all over the world have used the Street View Trekker to document the places they’re passionate about,” says the blog post.
“Together, we’ve published these adventures in 360 degree view on Google Maps for anyone in the world—no matter where you are—to enjoy,” it claims.
Google, by the way, is not the only company that uses such a system; the Nature Valley Trail View website employs similar backpack-mounted cameras to capture 360-degree imagery of trails in some of America’s top national parks, including the Grand Canyon National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Yellowstone National Park.
Through the company’s Trekker loan program, you can hire the new backpack to capture 360-degree imagery of your adventures and share it with the world by way of Google Maps.
“This program is open to pro photographers, travelers, and organizations (such as tourism boards, non-profits, government agencies, universities or research groups),” Google says on its online loan application form.
“It’s also open to others seeking to promote areas of cultural, historical or touristic significance as well as those who intend to photograph business interiors,” it says.
For now, though, the Trekker loan scheme is limited to a few countries, but Google says it’s working on making it accessible in more countries in the future.
Acceptance or rejection of an application is the sole discretion of the company.
Here’s a short video clip of the Street View Trekker on the go.
The announcement comes as a breath of fresh air from Google after the recent Dragonfly search engine controversy the company found itself embroiled in.
Ever since it’s secret and highly questionable Dragonfly project in China was exposed in August, the tech titan had been facing fierce criticism from investigative journalists and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, in addition to dissent among its own workforce.
An open letter demanding the immediate scrapping of the controversial tailored version of Google’s popular search engine for China was published online late last month.
What started off as a 10-signatory letter entitled “We are Google employees. Google must drop Dragonfly,” was later backed by hundreds of employee signatures, as murkier details started emerging.
The letter started with a categorical demand on the company to halt Dragonfly, calling the project “Google’s effort to create a censored search engine for the Chinese market that enables state surveillance.”
“We are among thousands of employees who have raised our voices for months,” read the letter.
“International human rights organizations and investigative reporters have also sounded the alarm, emphasizing serious human rights concerns and repeatedly calling on Google to cancel the project,” it continued. “So far, our leadership’s response has been unsatisfactory.”
“Many of us accepted employment at Google with the company’s values in mind, including its previous position on Chinese censorship and surveillance, and an understanding that Google was a company willing to place its values above its profits,” the letter said.
The noise against Google’s corporate values and privacy ethics had reached such a crescendo that Liz Fong-Jones, an engineer in the company, started publicly pooling a strike fund in support of all those who stood against the Dragonfly project.