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Google holds a mirror up to the world

Tom Chivers (via Sunday Telegraph, London/ SMH) | June 5, 2013
The team behind Google Maps won't stop until it has every last inch of the planet stored on its servers. Would we really be so lost without them?

The figures involved are bordering on silly. About 1 billion people use Google Maps every month, working out at about 1 billion searches a day.

One hundred and ninety-four countries have been at least partly mapped, with a total of 45 million kilometres of road. (Google will tell you that its ability to warn you of heavy traffic on those roads saves humanity two years of frustration every day, across 600 cities worldwide.)

Street View, the bit of Maps that gives you a pedestrian's-eye view of the roads you're looking at, is expanding at an intimidating rate: its jaunty, ubiquitous little electric cars have driven down more than 8 million kilometres of road, across 50 countries, their camera-turrets recording all the way.

And it is unlikely to slow down, because Google, being Google, is uncomfortable with anything that looks like standing still. Recently it noticed that the aforementioned jaunty and ubiquitous electric cars were not much use unless they had a road to trundle down. So it looked at other options.

First, a Google tricycle began cheerfully Street-Viewing city parks and university campuses across the United States. Then someone decided that they needed indoor maps too, so they built a trolley and started pushing that through museums and the like: "In the UK, we've got all the major airports, lots of train stations, shopping centres, markets," says Sieberg.

"You can imagine that, if you're at an airport and you want to find the right gate, or in a mall and you just want to find the toilet, this will come in handy." He looks momentarily shifty. "I'll let you into a secret. We actually have indoor maps of the New York Google building." No longer will any Googler be caught short between meetings.

But trolleys and trikes can't go everywhere, so the march had to continue. A camera-equipped snowmobile was sent down the slopes of Whistler, mapping it for any GPS-enabled skiers who wanted to plan their routes in advance.

And, finally, someone realised that until the Street View cameras could go anywhere humans could go, it wouldn't be enough. So they built a backpack and started getting people to walk around with them. The Trekker, strapped to some operator's back, has clambered down the Grand Canyon, trekked through the Canadian Arctic and Antarctica, and zoomed down the Amazon on a motor boat.

At the same time, underwater cameras have started mapping six locations, including the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands and Google planes have started flying overhead, taking photos that are being made into 3D images of 40 cities in the US, and Rome, according to Sieberg, and soon many more.


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