Camels, sleds and trikes: Seven odd Street View vehicles

Street View lenses are exploring more of our world on an evolving series of platforms

A snowmobile is equipped with a Google Street View camera mast. The vehicles have been used to image ski resorts in North America.

A snowmobile is equipped with a Google Street View camera mast. The vehicles have been used to image ski resorts in North America.

You may have seen Google Street View cameras mounted on a car mapping your neighborhood, but how about on a fishing boat?

The search giant recently completed a project to photograph the coastline of Tohoku, a region in Japan devastated by the massive earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Street View cameras were mounted on local fishing boats in eight locations as part of Google's digital archiving of the catastrophe.

Since beginning as an experiment on the roof of an SUV, Google's cameras have been capturing Street View images for seven years in increasingly unusual terrain. In addition to charting back roads all over North America, Street View imagery has been shot at the Grand Canyon, Everest Base Camp, the Galapagos Islands, the Canadian Arctic, the pyramids of Egypt. The cameras are now in Mongolia to photograph the steppe from the back of a pickup truck. Google's cameras have also documented more mundane locations including airports and train and subway stations. Here's a list of seven unusual ways that Street View is capturing footage.

Fishing boats

The Tohoku region of Japan isn't the first place Google has collected images on water. Street View cameras have been deployed on boats exploring Penang National Park in Malaysia, the waterways of the Amazon, and on gondolas and vaporettos plying the canals of Venice. A video of the images shot from the fishing boats, using Street View Trekker cameras usually mounted on backpacks, shows how the scenic northern Japanese coast seems to have recovered to some degree since the tsunami of 2011.

"We started the project after hearing that people in Tohoku wanted imagery of the shoreline of their towns," said Sakura Tominaga, a spokeswoman at Google's Tokyo office. "We hope that our imagery is useful for showing the beauty of the Sanriku coast, digitally archiving the area, and also contributing to an active conversation about seawalls."

Camels

Earlier this month, Google showed off views from a sort of "camel cam" -- a Trekker camera mounted on the back of a camel in the United Arab Emirates. The animal walked through parts of the Liwa Desert, where dunes can reach 40 meters in height, and cast some bizarre shadows in the sand with the camera mast on its back.

Dog sleds and snowmobiles

Street View has ventured to Iqaluit in the Canadian Arctic, where temperatures can drop to -45 Celsius. A camera was mounted on a dog sled bouncing over a snowbound Koojesse Inlet -- dog sleds also feature in Google's coverage of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost main island. Another mode of Arctic transportation, the snowmobile, was rigged for Street View when Google went up and down the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Snowmobile descents of resorts such as Breckenridge in Colorado have also been uploaded to Google Maps.

Diving rigs

In 2012, Google partnered with an insurance company and a nonprofit called Underwater Earth to launch Catlin Seaview Survey, dedicated to monitoring the loss of coral reefs and capturing corals in 360-degree photos. Divers use special camera mounts such as the SVII, a tablet-operated dive scooter that captures panoramic undersea views every 3 seconds while traveling at 4 kilometers/hour. A lightweight, diver-propelled version, the SVII-S, has cameras attached to a neutrally buoyant pole for easy deployment. The rigs have been used to grab Street Views of the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands.

Trains

Google's Street View Trike, essentially a large tricycle with a Street View camera mast, has been around for five years exploring monuments such as Stonehenge in England, but one of its most unusual deployments was aboard a flatbed rail car at the head of a train moving through the Swiss Alps. The rig captured stunning footage along 122km of the Albula/Bernina railway line, running through forests and tunnels between Thusis, Switzerland and Tirano, Italy.

Backpacks

First used in Arizona's Grand Canyon, the Trekker is a wearable, backpack version of the Street View camera. It gets Google's "eyes" into spots that are inaccessible to vehicles or even pack animals. The Android-powered rig weighs a backbreaking 19 kilograms and consists of 15 cameras that take snapshots every 2.5 seconds, ensuring an omnidirectional view wherever it goes. Hardy hikers have shouldered it through the crumbling temples of Angkor Wat, up the barren slopes of Mt. Fuji, Japan's highest peak, and into the dizzying spire of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building.

Trolleys

Another way of going offroad with Street View is with Trolleys, pushcarts with a panoramic camera, lasers that measure distance and motion sensors that track position. They're ideal for getting panoramic views of large interiors with flat surfaces the Trolleys can roll around on. In three years, the Trolleys have logged the interiors of dozens of buildings such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Palace of Versailles, the White House and Canada's House of Commons.

By far the most robotic-looking incarnation of the Street View lens, Trolleys have attracted the attention of artists in a kind of art imitating life interaction. Earlier this year, Spanish artist Mario Santamaria revealed a series of unintentional Trolley "selfies" as the device snapped pics of itself in the mirrors of the Paris Opera. The eerie images seem to portend the future of Street View as it evolves into new platforms and new landscapes.

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