June 28, 2009 in Business

Google tricycle snaps pictures

Associated Press
 

PHILADELPHIA – Coming soon to a campus near you – the Google tricycle.

A pedicab-like vehicle mounted with an 8-foot-high camera has been rolling around the pedestrian walkways of the University of Pennsylvania to collect panoramic images of the campus for Google Maps’ Street View feature, which gives users detailed, street-level views of map locations over the Internet.

Google Inc. has been using car-mounted cameras to prowl streets in the U.S. and around the world. The human-powered version allows coverage of pedestrian-only areas on campuses, in public parks and at theme parks, as well as along hiking and bicycling trails, as Google seeks to expand coverage of its maps.

The effort comes as Google faces complaints from many individuals and institutions that have been photographed around the world. Since launching in 2007, Street View has expanded to more than 100 cities worldwide.

Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of the industry news site Search Engine Land, called the new effort a good public relations move by Google.

“This is a nice way for them to say ‘Hey, look, Street View: It’s really warm and fuzzy,’ ” he said. “It’s not just about taking pictures of people’s houses. We can find these footpaths that people want to go on and walking areas, places people will like.”

Officials say the photos of Penn’s tree-lined Locust Walk mall and other places will allow prospective students and their parents to get a good feel for the campus, give incoming students a way to map out the best route to their classes – and let alumni fondly remember their school days.

“We see this as an opportunity … for people to see as much of Penn as possible from their computer,” said Marie Witt, University of Pennsylvania vice president for business services. “Students can show their parents where they’re living, where the student union is, where their favorite classroom building is.”

The 250-pound vehicle, which resembles the pedicabs that carry tourists around Philadelphia and other cities, has the cyclist pumping the pedals up front, with the camera mounted on a tower in the back. On the rear is a red generator along with a large white chest that looks like it might dispense ice cream but actually contains the computer recording the digital images.

The tricycle has also been cruising around other colleges and universities, including Penn State, San Diego State and the University of San Diego, Google spokesman Sean Carlson said.

It has also been seen cruising past Rome’s Trevi fountain, at Santa Monica’s Third Street promenade and pier and along a Monterey, Calif., bicycle trail. Soon, views will be featured from along walkways of theme parks such as Legoland near Carlsbad, Calif., Carlson said.

In other countries, privacy concerns have been raised about the images.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google recently acceded to German demands to erase the raw footage of faces, house numbers, license plates and individuals who have told authorities they do not want their information used in the service.

Last month, Greek officials rejected a bid to photograph the nation’s streets until more privacy safeguards are provided.

Witt said university officials escorting the Google teams around campus were working to make sure privacy concerns were addressed. The company says faces and license plates will be blurred, and anyone can quickly flag for removal images they consider inappropriate by clicking a box on the bottom of each page.

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