Whenever I receive an invitation to attend an event these days it’s almost second nature to immediately type the address into my Google browser and then click ‘street view’ to get an exact look at where I have to be. Sometimes I’ll move the cursor around to see if there are any bike racks nearby where I can lock up, or better yet, I’ll scan along the nearby streets for people who have been captured by the cameras to get a feel for what type of area the venue is in (i.e., will those dropping their Bentley’s off in the valet turn their nose up at my dented Norco cruiser shackled up out front). This is all Google Maps Street view has been to me, another way of being prepared, but perhaps I’m not using it to its full potential.
In June, Google announced a plan to take its street view cameras to the trails, mapping out and photographing major tourist sights like the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest. In place of the adorable Google cars you may have seen cruising through your city, they’ve built the ‘Street View Trekker’, a backpack that captures images every 2.5 seconds using the 15 cameras suspended just above the head of the operator. The camera will give you a view of of the trail, surrounding flora (and fauna, if you’re lucky), rest stops and any other trekkers it may encounter on the trail – though their faces will be blurred for privacy.
Check out the promotional video here:
The Street View Trekker comes after a series of innovations with Street View like the ‘Street View Trike’ that was used to capture narrow pedestrian streets in Spain and Malaysia, the ‘Street View Snowmobile’ which mapped out the ski runs in Canada’s Whistler and Blackcomb mountains and the ‘Street View Push Cart’ which took us inside the White House and art museums like the MET. Additionally, the Street View has gone to UNESCO World Heritage sites, major world landmarks, wonders of the world, Antarctica and even inside popular restaurants and hotels around the globe. In March 2013, a project is underway to take the Street View underwater and explore the Great Barrier Reef! Perhaps it will be called the ‘Street View Scuba’.
So what does this mean for tourism?
There is definitely something to be said about being able to basically travel all around the world from the comfort of your own home. No need to worry about the annoyances of flying, booking hotels, getting around or speaking the language. There is no threat of pick-pocketing, or coming in contact with any sort of danger or natural disaster. You can trek through the Amazon without worrying about sunscreen or comfortable shoes and you won’t get even a single mosquito bite! For the most part, Street View allows you to see places that may never have had the chance to visit because they seemed out of reach, too expensive, too dangerous or just not somewhere you had considered before.
But it’s just a picture.
There is something truly magical about stepping off a plane in a foreign country where maybe you don’t speak the language or the climate is completely different than what you’re used to. There is this feeling in the pit of your stomach, a bit of anxiety mixed with fear or nervousness but mostly excitement; excitement for the unknown and the yet to be. The first time I went to Cuba I remember how odd it was to exit the plane straight on to the tarmac like you see Presidents do when they get off their private jets in movies. And then to be shuffled into a small, stuffy building thick with the smell of cigar smoke and sweat, it was so Cuba. I remember being in India and trying to maneuver my way through the muddied labyrinth of pedestrian streets in the holy city of Varanasi where I had a face-off with a massive cow that would not clear the way – those things are huge! When you experience something, you experience it with all of your senses, the warmth of the air, the scent of the trees, the taste of the water, the vividness of the colours and most importantly, the way these things come together to form an impression that last long after you have returned home.
I’m somewhat fascinated by the way Google is mapping our world and will admit to wasting away entire afternoons staring at the Eiffel Tower on a dreary day (though when I actually visited it, it was a beautifully sunny Spring day), or snooping through Shackelton’s Hut in Antarctica. Street View is neat and is a great ways to explore when you’re feeling particularly landlocked in the Canadian winter. Will it stop me from getting on a plane? I highly doubt that, but if anything, it’s a great way to be prepared and to get a sense of what you’re in for when you go there in person.
To check out the latest and greatest from Google Street View, visit: maps.google.ca/intl/en_ca/help/maps/streetview/