How does Google do that? – Part 1

Remember family trips, back in childhood!

Adults gather to plan, outlining possible destinations and the paths to take on a map. The sound of  numerous arguments on the best route to take! The sound of crumpling map paper – which eventually, tears apart in a fight amongst the children. Now, where? Lost?

Well, technology had plans to cure such problems.

In 2005, Google has launched its very first maps online and has been growing ever since. It has launched two very successful applications – Google Maps and Google Earth.

At this point, you are probably like what is the difference?

Well, Google Maps provides us with excellent turn-by-turn navigation, keeping our data synched across devices, which might be the most convenient option for an on-the-go service. Whereas, Google Earth offers additional 3-D content. It also allows to use special controllers such as Space navigator and the LEAP motion. These aid to dig deeper for the more intricate details and experience simulation.

Back, when I was new to Melbourne, I set out to see the city – alone. What was meant to be a casual stroll, turned out to be a frightening venture. Within seconds from getting of a train, I was lost. Didn’t know where to go or whom to ask! I truly credit Google Maps for saving my lost soul that day. (From then on, made sure I had company)

We all secretly share a lot of gratitude to Google for providing us with a saviour!

So, how exactly does Google do this? 

It is a mixture of many complex processes and algorithms, used to analyse each step. In short it’s a mix of sources like StreetView, aerial imagery and information provided by users.

Google Street View: 

Street View plays a major role in capturing images using googles fleet of equipment to get the top imagery. This includes navigating from the narrowest of alley ways to the widest of freeways, from the hottest of deserts to the snowy caps on mountain peaks. This wouldn’t be possible without the following equipment:

-Street View car

-Street View Trolley , a system developed to fit through museum doorways and navigate around sculptures.

-Street View SnowMobile, a system used to capture on slopes.

-Street View Trike, used to reach some of the narrow alleyways that Google car cannot.

-Street View trekker , enables Street View to feature more places around the world — places no car, trike, trolley or snowmobile can access.


Google Street View Trike and Street View Car – Photo Credit Mariusz Kucharczyk (Flickr)


Google Street View Snow mobile – Photo Credit Marcel Prinoth (Flickr)


Trekker: Google Street View Backpack Camera
Beautiful shot of Google Trekker – Photo Credit Eli Duke (Flickr)

The photographs above may give you an insight into the conditions thrived to bring us closer to our world.

As part of the process, collecting imagery is just the starting. Then, matching each image to its geographic location on the map, by combining signals from sensors on the car that measure GPS, speed and direction. This helps to reconstruct the car’s exact route, and even tilt and realign images as needed. Turning into 360 degree photos and 3D images, is contributed by the rapid actions of three lasers above the car that reflect, detecting the distance between buildings and the position.This enables to build the model, by masking the images – giving a panoramic view.

Crucial information is extracted from the images such as  business names, major vs minor roads, business logos, one way streets, street names and numbers, bicycle lanes – directly from the picture using computer vision algorithms. 

Watch the space for part 2 – detailing more exciting features that allow us to navigate through the bustling cities, last minute family trips or just back home.


Further References:

Video – Showcasing the use of Google Street View Trolley.

6 Responses to “How does Google do that? – Part 1”

  1. Rinky says:

    Sci_keljay: I totally agree with you, on the fact that we are totally spoilt by the advancing technology around us. Thank you for reading.

    Mei: Google does take volunteers for google trekking, so you can find out more information on being hired by them. Or mostly I think the local employees of Google take the role up. Yes, I think when the self-driving cars do hit the market and take off, probably would replace the existing cars to capture imagery.

    Runjie: That would be amazing! Wouldn’t it? Imagine having imagery of underwater life at your finger tips?

  2. Rinky says:

    Jessica Kamar:
    I haven’t heard of the image capturing, but definitely sounds like privacy invasion. Google tries to mask or blur out details that it does not have evidence or right over.
    Thank you for reading.

  3. Runjie Yuan says:

    Interesting post! I have been wondering how Google collect so much street view into their map, especially for the small lanes that cars definitely have no access to. Trike, snow mobile and even trekker! So I think Google’s next step is using submarines to extend their maps into underwater world.

  4. Mei says:

    I’ve seen a google street view car once or twice but wow I didn’t know they had so many vehicles. I guess I was expecting something super out there but sometimes a trolley will do the job! i wouldn’t mind becoming a street view trekker haha. i wonder if this image capturing process will soon/one day be replaced by google’s self-driving car and other handsfree gadgets.

  5. Sci_keljay says:

    Great read!

    I can absolutely relate to the terror that is Melbourne for a first timer out there on the streets. I have frequented Melbourne solo quite a few times since then, and would never have made it to uni, work and even home without google.

    I think the introduction of google maps and earth can add a new layer of excitement to planning holidays. The mapping and planning was always a riot as a kid, but now, it adds in new layers and often points out hidden gems of destinations that you wouldn’t have previously stopped at. We are very spoilt by our new technology dependent lives!

  6. Jessica Kamar says:

    A very interesting read! I know I definitely take for granted google maps – not sure how I ever survived without it!
    I read an article last week on the dispute in the South China sea. Apparently google earth picked up some images of suspicious looking military activity on one of the islands near Taiwan. Not sure of the details, but it definitely sparked a debate on “privacy” and “surveillance”. If you can’t get away with building missiles in the middle of the sea, what can we get away with?!