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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Google has Updated its Street View Cameras for the First Time in Eight Years

Better cameras means better photos and source data for Google's machine learning capabilities.
As reported by The Verge: The days of the large, globe-like cameras on top of Google Street View cars may be slowly disappearing. Google has refreshed the design for the cameras used to capture Street View images, which is its first significant upgrade in eight years, reports WiredThe new camera rig will help capture photos that are clearer, higher in resolution, and more vivid in color. Like the old design, the rig will attach to a vehicle’s roof, but the smaller ball on top now features just seven cameras (down from 15) fitted with 20 megapixel sensors. The rig also plays host to two cameras that take still HD photos, and two “cans” on the front and back for laser radar.

The main ball, with seven 20MP cameras.  There are also two Velodyne Lidar Pucks mounted at an angle.
Google’s machine learning and AI capabilities mean that when photos are captured by a Street View car, algorithms can detect and note relevant street names and numbers, automatically adding them to Google’s database. The software can also identify business names and logos. Google is working to better the software, taking its capabilities further so one day it can recognize different types of stores based on what they look like, and reading smaller signage that show details like opening hours.

The HD camera that captures building data on the left and right of the car.
Better technology should lead to better source data for Google’s machine learning capabilities, which will allow it to expand Google’s search and Assistant functions. In an example to Wired, Google’s vice president and head of its mapping arm Jen Fitzpatrick says in the future, Google Maps might be able to answer more detailed questions that reference how the world looks, such as “What’s the name of the pink store next to the church on the corner?” Those questions can only be answered if “we have richer and deeper information,” she says.

Google Street View has been taking photos since 2007, and its fleet of Street View vehicles include cars, snow mobiles, trikes, and a trolley that captures photos indoors in places like museums. The camera rig has even been outfitted onto a backpack to take images of places that aren’t easily reached by vehicle.

We’ve reached out to Google for additional details on the new rig’s rollout.

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