Google Goes Off-Roading

Search giant to launch 3-D “TrailView” feature

Since launching its mapping site in 2005, Google has made huge strides in its objective to map the entire planet with its StreetView feature. The company has attached panoramic cameras to cars, trolleys, trikes, snowmobiles, helicopters—even boats navigating the Amazon River. Recently Google upped the ante yet again, this time announcing an ambitious initiative to begin mapping trails around the country.

The so-called Street View Trekker relies on a 40-pound pack equipped with 15 separate five-megapixel cameras, a hard drive and enough battery power to last a full day of hiking.

“There’s a whole wilderness out there that is only accessible by foot. Trekker solves that problem by enabling us to photograph beautiful places such as the Grand Canyon, so anyone can explore them,” writes Brian McClendon, VP of Engineering for GoogleMaps.

But has the Big G gone too far? The fact that our remote wilderness areas are only accessible by foot is, well, kind of the point of getting out there yourself to explore them. Is this really a “problem” that needs solving?

This isn’t the first time a company has tried mapping trails via 3-D imagery. Granola bar maker Nature Valley earlier this year launched its Trail View website, which so far has select portions of three national parks—Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains and Yellowstone—available for a virtual walk-through.

Google has not elaborated on the pace or scope of its plans for building out its trails database, but it also recently announced it’s looking to refine Google Earth’s 3-D detail of major metropolitan centers (see video here). The company hopes to provide detailed building-by-bulilding renderings of several urban centers, covering a cumulative urban population of some 300 million in an upcoming release. That ought to keep the them busy and keep your favorite local trail off the public radar—at least for now.