Walking the Galapagos with Google

In the early days, Street View must have been a relatively easy project for Google to execute, considering the financial resources and employees at its disposal: strap a set of high-tech cameras to a fleet of vehicles and drive the latter around urban areas all over the world, recording every inch for viewers’ clicking-and-dragging pleasure.

But there’s only so much of the world accessible via well-paved roads (or close to gas stations, for that matter), which meant Google had to regress a bit: instead of cars, it began strapping all that fancy camera equipment to human beings, who are a little bit maneuverable over rough terrain and narrow dirt paths than a four-door sedan. Google sent its Street View cyborgs into the Grand Canyon, where they recorded the craggy pathways and steep cliffs. Then it sent them to some of the world’s highest peaks.

Now comes the next exotic locale: the Galapagos Islands, land of giant tortoises and other unique species, where Charles Darwin researched his famous theory of evolution.

“It’s critical that we share images with the world of this place in order to continue to study and preserve the islands’ unique biodiversity,” read a May 23 note on the Google Lat Long blog. “Today we’re honored to announce, in partnership with Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Parks Directorate (GNPD), that we’ve collected panoramic imagery of the islands with the Street View Trekker.” That imagery will appear on Google Maps later in 2013.

The Street View effort extends to the waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands, where Google collaborated with the Catlin Seaview survey to record undersea images.

The reason for Google’s Street View efforts goes beyond simply wanting to show off cool places. The battles around digital cartography have intensified over the past several quarters, especially after Apple decided to abandon Google’s mapping data in favor of generating its own. Larger IT firms have snatched up independent mapping firms left and right, hoping for an influx of new data and features that will give them some sort of edge: rumors abounded earlier this month, for example, that Facebook was in talks to buy Waze, a crowdsourced mapping-and-navigation app.

The stakes couldn’t be higher: a mapping platform with millions of loyal users can extend a “halo effect” of sorts to the company’s other products; after Apple brought its own mapping data to iOS, any number of bloggers publicly mused over whether to switch to Android in order to keep using Google Maps (the early wonkiness of Apple’s revamped Maps app probably fueled a lot of those musings). That alone could keep Google innovating its Maps at a rapid pace. But the Galapagos tortoises are pretty cool, besides.


Image: Google

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