Google Street View began with a bunch of regular SLR cameras strapped to the roof of a car, a GPS unit and a laser device to measure distances between objects in the images. The images were then patched together using stitching technology and use the coordinates and measured distances to create a kind of walk-through, 3D-effect panoramic image of the scene. Skip ahead to today and Google now manufactures its own cameras and has refined the image and data processing technology to such an advanced level that users can swivel 360 degrees around a scene and see high-definition imagery at every turn.
For off-road locations like Ulur-u, Street View has developed a backpackmounted camera rig.
It’s available for loan to organisations that have an asset or location of value to add to Street View. The Ulur-u project was the result of just such a partnership with the Northern Territory government. The latest version of the Street View camera is the R7, a rosette of 15 fixed focal length lenses protected by a baffle with a GPS unit on top. Each of the 15 cameras captures a photo every 2.5 seconds. Google’s software blends multiple exposures together, adjusting and correcting colours, brightness and other variables to create the final 360-degree view. It can also blur faces and personal information. The cameras are operated by the wearer via a smartphone application. While mapping, the smartphone receives a quality-control image to ensure nothing is impeding the view above. The cameras can collect spatial data and information from road signage and other sources. Massive quantities of imagery and coordinate data are collected as the cameras move. These are stored in a hard drive in the base of the unit.
The battery pack is designed to last 8 hours.