Google gets on its (three-wheeled) bike

While court cases from hostile governments have always been the biggest obstacle to Google’s Street View project, it has faced a couple of other limitations: covering private land and accessing places without a road. But both of those have proven surmountable.

After two years of work, the company has now unveiled a host of locations that have been captured on screen using a specially adapted tricycle. It’s not exactly a kid’s toy: the device is nine feet long, has cameras on stalks seven feet tall, and weighs 250 pounds. So heavy, in fact, that the company says it often hires athletes to pedal the vehicles.

The vehicles allows the company to access areas where cars aren’t allowed, such as backstreet alleys, piers and forest trails. The last of these sounds particularly useful as it allows people to judge how heavy-going a particular hike might be, particularly in heavily wooded areas where zooming in on the satellite-produced Google Map view doesn’t reveal much about the picture on the ground.

The other main advantage of the trikes is that Google can get into private land. That’s not in the sense of snooping where they aren’t wanted, but rather in cases where the owners of a venue or facility are happy for the mapping to take place, but where cars simply aren’t a viable option. These include everything from historic houses with epic landscaped gardens, to modern theme parks such as Legoland.

To encourage more of these facilities to allow the mapping, Google is offering a deal by which the venue gets the full rights to use the resulting imagery on its own website.

There is one major drawback to the tactic though: while the box on the back of the trike contains a generator, it appears many passers-by assume it’s a refrigerator and expect to be able to buy ice cream from the rider.

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