The Many Modes of Google’s Street View Program

Caitlin Dempsey


Google’s street level imagery gathering is an enormous data collecting effort.  Street View launched in May of 2007 and Google has since collected over 20 petrabytes of imagery with its program.  Google’s Street View provides 360-degree panoramic views in 39 countries and over 3,000 cities.  The number of places where Street View imagery is available is growing partly thanks to the multimodal approach Google has taken towards capturing images.  Google recently announced its biggest update ever of the Street View program, with over 250,000 miles of updates.

The Google Street View Car

The first Street View images were captured in 2007 by an SUV equipped with lasers, cameras, and GPS equipment mounted to the roof of the car.  Some Google Street View cars are now brightly wrapped to identify them as part of the street level imagery program.  Cars are used by Google to collect imagery in driveable areas.

Street View Trike

In October of 2009, Google introduced the trike setup for capturing Street View imagery in areas not accessible by cars.  The idea to outfit a tricycle with a camera and GPS unit was the brainchild of Mechanical Engineer Dan Ratner who is an avid mountain biker.  The trike setup is used by Google to traverse such sites as trails, parks, amusement parks, stadiums, and university campuses.  Those with intersting properties can petition Google to pay a visit through the Street View Partner Program.

The Street View Trekker was even mounted on a boat to capture images along the Amazon river in August of 2011.

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Street View Snow Mobile

In February, 2010, the Street View Snow Mobile was announced shortly before the 2010 Winter Olympics which were held in Vancouver, Canada.  Again, Ratner brainstormed ideas with his team at Google for capturing mountain imagery and came up with the idea to outfit a snow mobile.

Street View Trolley

In February, 2011, Google introduced the Street View Trolley, designed to navigate narrow corners and envisioned for use in museums but also used for other indoor data capturing efforts.  The push cart is part of Google’s strategy to capture indoor Street View imagery.  A gallery of some of Google’s indoor collections can be browsed at  Ratner explained, “We needed to develop a system that could easily fit through museum doorways and navigate around sculptures.”

Street View Trekker

For places where access is limited to foot traffic only, Google introduced the Street View Trekker in June of 2012.  The backpack mounted image capturing device weighs about 40 pounds.  Google recently announced a team wear Trekkers will be capturing images of the Grand Canyon.

Google Street View Underwater

The Catlin Seaview Survey teamed with Underwater Earth and Googleto capture stunning underwater imagery of the Great Barrier Reef. A specially designed underwater camera, SVII, was used to capture the 360-degree underwater pictures.  In September of 2012, the first pictures were made available via Google Maps to the public.

Seaview 360-degree camera.
Seaview 360-degree camera.
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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.