Google recently hosted a Street View event, which it used to show off the tech behind the images we see in Google Maps.
The focus of the event was the Google Street View Trekker backpack, which sports a similar camera to the unit on Google’s Street View cars.
The backpack allows hikers and adventurers to map out locations inaccessible by Google’s vehicles.
Photos are taken automatically by the backpack and then uploaded to Google Maps, allowing users to view and navigate landmarks and hiking trails from their PC or smart device.
The Trekker backpacks have been used extensively by South African hikers and explorers, providing Google with thousands of images of the country.
The Trekker backpacks are not small units, weighing 25kg and featuring a large camera array mounted on a tall structure above the wearer’s head.
The camera setup comprises 15 cameras, which each take a single high-resolution image every second. These images are then combined to create a 360-degree view of the wearer’s surroundings.
This process happens automatically and requires little intervention, although the wearer does need to replace the backpack’s batteries and free up its internal storage.
The Trekker can run for seven hours on a charge, and hikes or trips which take longer than this require additional batteries.
Internal storage also needs to be freed up occasionally, with Trekker users uploading their footage to Google and clearing out the device’s internal hard drives.
Due to its use in outdoor environments, the Trekker’s frame is designed to be durable and withstand falls, scrapes, and other damage.
Carrying the Trekker
I tried on the Trekker camera, and was immediately impressed with the hikers who spend days walking through the country with the machine strapped to their back.
The backpack’s mounting straps distribute its weight well and wearing the Trekker is relatively comfortable, but its weight is felt when you attempt to move around.
As soon as I tried to move with the rig on my back, I instantly felt off-balance – due to the shift in my centre of gravity.
The Trekker’s tall, heavy camera rig interferes with your sense of balance, and hikers who had worn the device said it takes a while to get used to.
Despite this, it looks far worse to wear than it actually is, and past wearers assured me it quickly becomes easy to manage.
If you choose to carry around a Trekker on your adventures, you can use your smartphone to define your path and track where you need to walk, in addition to the path you have already mapped.
Discover South Africa
Google has partnered with South African travel company Discover Africa Group to recruit volunteers to wear its Trekker backpacks around South Africa.
The company sourced the backpacks from Google as part of its Trekker loan programme, which allows organisations to request the hardware in order to map their country for Google Street View.
Through a volunteer programme and a partnership with South African Tourism, the company managed to map multiple national parks and hundreds of trails.
The organisation will continue to send hikers out to map trails and natural landmarks across South Africa, it said.
To view images taken by Google’s Trekker Street View backpacks in South Africa, visit the Discover South Africa Street View gallery.