Boston’s Faneuil Hall Is a Finalist for Google Street View Visit—Vote Now, Then Meet Trike Builder Dan Ratner

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I’m there and people can come up to me and talk to me. Everybody knows about Google Earth and Google Maps, and most people already seem to know about Street View, but they’re not familiar with the different platforms we use. Sometimes they see me and assume that the trikes do all of Street View. My reply to that is, “We have some amazing riders, but wow, that would take a lot of them!”

X: Stepping back, how would you describe the value that Street View adds to Google Maps?

DR: If you want me to get a little bit philosophical, I think that humans have really evolved to be visual animals. There’s just something in our brain—an image lights up a lot more hotspots in your cortex than simple text or a map view would. In terms of cold, hard utility, I can tell you how I myself used Street View the first time it launched: I play music in a band and we were getting ready for a show, and we had to hire a different drummer. The new drummer lived about an hour away from my friend’s house, and I was trying to describe how to get there, and I just showed him Street View and sent him a link. That was the first time a musician ever showed up at a rehearsal without having to call. I think that’s exactly what a lot of people are doing—saying “Here’s where we’re meeting” and sending the link in an e-mail.

X: Okay, and how does having the trike improve Street View?

DR: Many people view Street View as a tool for navigating from a car, but that’s because that’s pretty much the imagery we serve. But if you look at Europe, for example, there are many important places that you just can’t get to in a car. Whether you are on a bike or walking or if you just live in the area, you can now check it out. We’re now sending the trike into those places that are off the beaten path, that cars can’t get to. I’ll give you another example: I went to a close friend’s wedding in Central Park in New York last May. That’s a humungous place, and we had to figure out which part of this huge park we were going to. She ended up having to hire people to do nothing but usher people 10 minutes into the park to this specific site. Having something like Street View for Central Park could help you get out of your car and walk or bike there.

X: How many trikes are there so far compared to the number of cars that are equipped with Street View cameras? And if Google is serious about photographing all of the important off-road places around the world, wouldn’t it need thousands of trikes?

DR: Right now we have about 10 to 15 of them. They’re being deployed here in the U.S., in Asia, and in Europe. This is a fairly new aspect of Street View—going off roads—and nobody that I can think of all of a sudden jumps to deploying things by the thousands. That’s not how Street View began either. We started with a small group of cars and scaled up. How big could this get? I guess we’ll see. The suggestion campaign has had a huge number of participants.

X: How does the equipment on the trikes differ from Google’s standard car-mounted Street View camera system?

DR: When the idea arose, one of the things that was important to us was to maintain the quality of the imagery in terms of what we deliver already from the car platform. We didn’t want to change what the users sees when they are looking at the car trails versus the trike trails. So what we have now on the trike is literally identical to what’s on the cars. Now, how do you get that on the trike, given that you have things like bumpy roads? That is where all the engineering comes in.

You’ve probably seen videos of me on the trike. It’s nimble compared to a car, but it’s also quite a beefy rig. We start with pedi-cab chassis from Main Street Pedicabs. They are able to carry … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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