Google loans out Street View Trekker for global exploration

In an effort to map parts of the planet where cars can't go, the tech giant is working with third-party organizations to gather imagery from hiking trails, beaches, canyons, and mountaintops.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
Rob Pacheco treks the uneven terrain and rocky beaches of Pololu Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii. Google

Google is petitioning explorers to help it take Google Maps to where no roads go -- through South American jungles, into Africa's canyonlands, among Asia's thousands of islands, across Hawaiian lava fields, and more.

The tech giant announced Thursday that it's asking third-party organizations to strap on its Street View Trekker back-pack and contribute imagery to help the company "build the very best map of the world."

To kick off the new pilot program, Google first partnered with the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. People at the bureau have already started hiking around the Big Island of Hawaii, collecting images on the island's most popular spots, such as Volcanoes National Park, Akaka Falls, Waipio Valley, and more. They plan to continue onto the other islands next.

"With 360-degree interactive imagery of the islands, people all over the world can see and explore the beautiful islands before they go, including some remote and hard-to-reach places they may never have discovered on their own," Google Street View program manager Deanna Yick wrote in a blog post.

The idea of partnering with third-party organizations is to speed up the process of bringing all of this imagery online. "By working in partnership with HVCB, we can bring these locations online much faster than working alone," Yick wrote.

The Trekker backpack is equipped with a 15-lens camera system that pops out of the top of the wearable pack and constantly records images. Each lens points in a different direction so that when combined all of the images can be stitched into 360-degree panoramic views.

Google Maps has increasingly brought armchair travelers to some of the most difficult places to reach on Earth. In March, the Web giant released a way to visit the mammoth peaks of Mount Everest, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, and Mount Elbrus. And, over the past year, it has explored a remote region of Brazil's Amazon, swam underwater in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and ventured out to hard-to-reach areas near the South Pole and the North Pole. It even brought Street View to Japan's Fukushima nuclear no-go zone.

Yick said that the new Trekker pilot program is part of Google's ongoing effort to make it possible for anyone to contribute to Google Maps. Any tourism board, non-profit, government agency, university, research organization or similar entity can apply to borrow the Street View Trekker and get involved in Google's mapping process.