Thursday, 10 September 2009

360 Photography - Boroughs go for Google Street view

In the context of the Small World time Lapse series I was obviously interested in what else is going on in this field of panoramic photography. Just by chance I also came across new smart camera cars in the neighborhood. I approached them and we had a chat about their work.
They were expecting me to ask about Google Street View. They responded by apologizing for not working for Google and it turned out they work for the London based company 360viewmax (it was printed in rather big letter all over the small car) and they are doing a job for Islington council. It appears that the council has discovered the value of Street View for their purpose. They want to use it for maintenance survey. What that is I haven’t really figured out.
How it works is quit complicated at it involves two people in the car. There is a secondary quite big writing on the back of the small car: “Caution this vehicle stops frequently“. Meaning what it says, the car stops every 20 meters or so to take a picture. It is kind of done manually. Beside the driver the second person in the car has a laptop with GIS information on a map. The location of the image is, I believe manually input into the GIS system. GPS as they have told me is only used for rough navigation as they say it is not accurate enough. Compared to this the Google cars just drive along the road and take photographs on the go. The argument of 360viewmax is that they want to deliver high quality images with a lot of detail. The installation on the roof of the car is three Nikon p6000 cameras. Funny enough the cameras have a built in GPS module but it is not use.
However, there is a cool demonstration of it on the 360viewmax webpage (I had some issues with Firefox this morning when I tried it, but it worked on Safari). You can click into an Islington neighborhood and down to street level to jump into bubbles of 360 panoramas. The interface is rather crude and located somewhere in a GIS technical engineer kind of world. Maybe they develop at some point a neat designed consumer interface.

Images by 360viewmax - screenshot - plan overview, panorama, zoomed in on a car

There has been this huge debate about privacy around Google Street View and they where forced to blur faces and number plates. In this council version of Street View however these elements are not blurred and number plates can be read for example.
In terms of Google Street View, it has sparked a lot of controversy, especially around the launch of it in a new area. I remember the fuzz about it in London for a week, when it first launched earlier this year. And just a month ago the launch in Switzerland sparked the same discussion. Now in London there is hardly any comment on it in the news, apart from the odd use of the service to visualize a location. Also in everyday conversation the fear for losing privacy has been replaced by curiosity and acknowledgment. People speak about it as a useful tool, mainly saying: it is great to see a location that you are not at. Then they bring the excuse of planning for a journey and it would help to orientate in unfamiliar surrounding. We’ll it might do but come on it does not really replace being there. It is related to the phenomenon of the photograph and the discussion of truth. In general photographs are believed to be a true image of reality and therefore Google Street View is in this view a digital replication of the actual scenery at this location. So it urges the question whether it is live and people can be seen, because people identify with it so intensively that it becomes a virtual reality.
However if you are interested to know where the real Google Street View cars drive a t the moment Google has finally disclosed this information. Not in detail, but you get an idea what areas are getting mapped at the moment and the chances are that you come across a Google camera car. You can click here.


Tomasz said...

I did a similar project for city council of Bialystok, Poland. It was needed for building facade inspection to regulate rules for form and placement of shop signs and choose buildings for renovation. There were almost 200 panoramas done with ~30m spacing.
Is there any info on what exactly Islington coulcil is planning to do with their panoramas?

fan said...

not sure though, haven't found anything about it on the Islington Council page. The guys driving the car just mentioned maintenance, but not sure what this means.

panoramic photo stitching said...

Great post!!!

panorama stitching