Will Google “Street View” Everything?

By July 14, 2012

Google Street View product manager Evan Rapoport was sitting under tree in Yosemite National Park, he says, when he was overcome by deep thoughts.

“I looked out at the majestic granite mountains, the chirping birds and the rustling leaves, and thought about how they were the same that day as they had been thousands of years ago,” he wrote in a recent blog post.

It was an introduction, of course, to the latest expansion of Street View into remote locations and the natural world. After capturing imagery from Antarctica, the Amazon river basin and the interiors of museums and historic sites around the world, Google returned to its home state for even more panoramas: The national parks at Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and Redwood — with its mammoth, eponymous trees — have all been incorporated into the service as of this week.

The bar set by Street View — a name that becomes a starker misnomer with each subsequent expedition into the field — makes the project’s long-term ambition an interesting guessing game. While it might be a few years before it incorporates Mars, or the depths of the ocean, signs do indicate its growing importance in the company’s pantheon.

For example, hints were dropped at Google I/O that the company’s persistent PR focus on the feature might be about more than its visual appeal. A feature in the upcoming Jelly Bean Android version ties panorama view to a device’s gyroscope, letting the user pan around a virtual space in order to “see” interiors of buildings a tablet-width at a time — a tantalizing glimpse of augmented reality features conceivably under development in relation to the company’s wearable Project Glass headset.

A Google spokesperson, who repeated the project mantra that it’s trying to “create the perfect map,” didn’t comment on the frontiers of the project, but didn’t take anything off the table either.

“We’re excited about the many possibilities we have yet to explore,” she said.

For now, at least, Rapoport concedes that panoramic imagery of the natural world pales in the face of a trip to the real park.

“This only scratches the surface of what California parks have to offer travelers looking to explore the great outdoors,” he wrote. “We hope a virtual trip through Street View inspires you to visit these places in person as well.”