In the thirteen years that Street View has existed, 360-degree camera technology has also experienced tremendous developments.
On May 25, 2007, Google Street View debuted in San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Miami, and Denver, among other U.S. cities. It is hard to realize that Google Street View has been operating for thirteen years.
The cameras of the period captured photographs with a resolution of 2.8 megapixels, much lower than modern smartphones' resolution. However, thirteen years is a long period in terms of technology.
The first generation iPhone was released on June 29, 2007, one month after Street View. Then, seven years later, in 2014, 360-degree cameras for consumers became popular, enabling anybody to take 360-degree photographs using cameras such as the Ricoh Theta m15.
Six years later, the market for 360 cameras has grown substantially. Many of these cameras have been influenced by Google and its camera vendors.
Here is a history of the Street View cameras and a peek into their future.
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2006 - 2007: The Concept
On a Chevrolet van, two high-speed video cameras, 8 high-resolution cameras arranged in a rosette (R), and a stack of computers recording footage to an arrangement of 20 hard drives at 500 Mbytes every second were installed in the "garage phase" of Street View.
With a heavy-duty transformer from a fire truck and specialized shock absorbers utilized for position optimization, the van had all it needed to perform at its best.
Demos were created using the images collected and found to be interesting enough to go on to the next stage of development.
2007: Dodeca 2360 (Immersive Media)
Google recruited the startup Immersive Media to drive the streets using a camera they had designed called the Dodeca 2360 in order to expedite the launch coverage.
Mounted atop a fleet of Volkswagen Beetles, the Dodeca 2360 camera could produce 100-megapixel still photos or 360-degree video at 2400 × 1200 (2.8 megapixels) at 30 frames per second.
Dodeca 2360 was also utilized in an early iteration of the Google Trekker Pack. Estimated cost to purchase brand-new at the time (mounting system included): $65,000.
After working with Immersive Media for a while, Google has begun using its own fleet of vehicles to collect data.
The R2, a ring of eight 11MP cameras with commercial photographic wide-angle lenses, was the first camera on Google's automobiles (with the same specifications as those used for the Google Books project).
2007: Ladybug2 (Point Grey Research now FLIR Systems)
Video could be recorded at 30 frames per second at a resolution of 1024x768 (0.8 megapixels) using the Ladybug2 camera from Point Grey Research, which is now FLIR Systems.
Introducing the Ladybug5+, the newest camera in the Ladybug series from FLIR Systems. $19,995 for a brand new model
In order to capture the tops of buildings, the R5 made use of a fish-eye lens on top of a ring of eight 5-megapixel Ephel cameras with bespoke low-flare, controlled-distortion lenses.
Three laser scanners were installed on the mast of the R5 design, allowing preliminary 3D data to be captured simultaneously with the images. Laser scanners were included on the initial prototype but weren't on the vehicles until the R5.
The Street View Trike and the Street View Snowmobile used this camera as one of their primary means of transportation.
The Eyesis camera by Elphel is built on open-source hardware and software and has a similar design. The Eyesis has been replaced by the Elphel Eyesis4Pi, which is more powerful.
Elphel Eysis's new price tag is $33,000.
A total of 15 cameras and lenses were employed to capture high-resolution photos across a wider field of view in Google's first in-house developed Street View camera, the R7 (to see down to sidewalks, even on narrow streets).
The R7 camera was used in the first commercially accessible Trekker Pack. Google's camera lending program extensively used a 1.2m tall, 20kg backpack camera setup for off-road photography until 2017.
Seven cameras with 20-megapixel sensors have been added to the Street View Camera's most recent incarnation, down from the original 15 cameras (up from 5).
A pair of "HD" cameras are mounted on the setup, which faces left and right. Street signs, company names, and even hours of operation are all included in this section for use with Google Maps.
Also, the camera is utilized in the newer, lighter Google Trekker Pack.
2007 - 2020: RX
R1 through R6 rosette camera systems had a short experimental history but did not become widely used.
They encountered the most significant problem in deploying the cameras in large numbers and keeping them operational at a high level. Unlike certain transitional versions, such as the R3 and R4, which featured mechanical shutters, the widely deployed cameras have no moving components to maintain their durability.
The Future of Google’s Street View Cameras
There were reportedly 250 Street View vehicles on the road in 2012.
Google has now announced that Street View has collected more than 10 million miles of footage from across the globe, a distance that, if driven in a straight line, would circumnavigate the Earth more than 400 times.
But Google wants more, and they know their fleet of (very costly) cameras will not be enough. The business actively encourages third-party camera makers to develop "Street View Ready" devices.
The program consists of two tiers:
Street View Ready
For cameras and software that fulfill the Google Maps 360 minimal publishing requirements. Google does not need specific clearance for Street View Ready products to utilize the Street View Publish API.
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Street View Ready Pro
For Street View-compatible 360-degree cameras with high precision and picture quality for in-motion recording. For a product to be deemed "Street View Ready Pro," Google must evaluate it using predetermined criteria. Those with Street View Ready Pro designation have expanded access to the Street View platform, including ways for publishing 360-degree picture sequences that are unavailable to the general public.
Featured image: Photo by Thomas Windisch
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