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Understanding Google Maps - How Does it Get Street View Photos

written by: •edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 2/22/2010

Google Street View is a superb service, an enhancement to Google Maps that allows you to see locations before you visit them, get an idea of tricky road junctions, or even view places you once visited - but how do they get those photos?

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    About Google Maps and Google Earth

    How does Google Maps get Streetview photos? From the Street View Fleet! Google Maps and Google Earth both use Google Street View – the amazing service from Google that features panoramic images of landmarks, towns and cities across the world.

    Added to both satellite viewing tools as the ultimate zoom option, Street View is another free service from Google that can be used to find your way around a city before you visit, or enjoy the sights of a remote location that you might never travel to.

    Street View is a popular service that is growing all the time. Since its launch in 2007, it has grown from featuring US cities to including the Tour de France route in 2008 and many parts of Europe throughout 2009; cities in the United Kingdom were added in March 2009.

    So how does Google Maps get Streetview photos?

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    How Does Google Maps Get Streetview Photos? The Street View Fleet

    The majority of the work is done via a fleet of Street View cars around the globe, each mounted with special cameras.

    Known as the Street View Fleet, these cars are driven slowly through major cities – driving quickly produces unusable, blurred images. A quick visit to Google Maps and a Street View scene will reveal some blurring, possibly due to street view fleet driving to fast in certain areas that require it. Privacy campaigners expressed concern about Street View when people were pictured embarking on tasks they would rather keep under-wraps, with the result that all people photographed have their faces obscured.

    In the USA, the fleet was made up of Chevrolet Cobalt cars. In Europe, Opel/Vauxhall Astras were used, and similar sturdy automobiles (with high, wide roofs for mounting cameras on) are used around the world.

    A special mention should also be given to the often forgotten Google Trikes and snowmobiles – these are used to record areas off the beaten track, such as pedestrian areas, narrow streets and ski resorts.

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    Car Mounted Cameras

    Google fleet cars use several different types of cameras for different scenarios. Described as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation, these cameras are all capable of taking panoramic images every 10-20 metres at a height of 2.5 metres above the ground.

    The Palace Theater, Shaftesbury Avenue, London as viewed on Google Street View Usually the cameras are attached to mounting rigs on the top of the Street View fleet of cars, and can provide 360 degrees horizontal and 290 degrees vertical views.

    Picture quality has varied since the launch of Google Street View. The first three generations of camera provided a lower quality resolution (with the 1st generation images in the USA, quickly substituted after launch, for images from a better camera) while the current 4th generation cameras offer a near-HD quality Street View experience.

    The Google Street View Fleet doesn’t just collect photos, either. Street View Fleet has been used to enhance Google Maps with information about wireless hotspots in town and cities. 3G, GSM and WiFi antennas are used to collect this data, which can be accurately pinpointed thanks to the GPS tracking used to get the most accurate positioning for the fleet.

    So wonder no more! “How does Google Maps get Streetview photos?" – now you know!