Google Wants You to Use Trekker to Map Out Your Part of the World

Google will now loan out its Trekker cameras to organizations so that they can contribute their region's unique images to Google Maps.

Google wants your organization's help in collecting additional images of the world for its Google Maps Street View collection, so now the search giant is offering to loan out its innovative Trekker 360-degree cameras to qualified organizations to add to the spectacular online photo collection.

"We're working to build the very best map of the world, and we'd love your help to do it," wrote Deanna Yick, Street View program manager, in a June 27 post on the Google Lat Long Blog. "Today we're kicking off a pilot program that enables third party organizations to borrow the Street View Trekker and contribute imagery to Google Maps. For the first time ever, this program will enable organizations to use our camera equipment to collect 360-degree photos of the places they know best—helping us make Google Maps more comprehensive and useful for all."

The idea, wrote Yick, is to make it possible for anyone to contribute to the Street View program on Google Maps.

Already, the first private contributors have been using the Trekkers, which are wearable backpacks with camera systems mounted on top that can capture 360-degree images of the terrain. The Trekker camera backpack is controlled by its operator using an Android phone as it automatically gathers photos as the operator walks.

The first Trekker volunteers are from the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), which is using the camera to take photos of the most popular, well-trafficked sites on the Hawaiian islands for future inclusion on Google Maps, according to Yick.

"Just a few days ago, our team arrived in Hawaii, the Big Island, to train our HVCB partners on how to operate the Trekker technology," she wrote. "Relying on HVCB's expertise, we worked together to choose the locations where they'll collect panoramic imagery, including trails through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Mauna Loa Observatory, Onomea Bay, Akaka Falls, Waipio Valley, Pololu Valley and more.

"By working in partnership with HVCB, we can bring these locations online much faster than working alone," which is why Google is extending the Trekker program to organizations, wrote Yick.

Groups that are interested in joining the Trekker loan program can now apply to Google by filling out an online form that describes the proposed Trek project, including its location and other details. Google will train the users about the operation of the Trekkers.

"If you're a tourism board, non-profit, government agency, university, research organization or other entity interested in borrowing a Street View Trekker to capture and share imagery from a place you know and care about, please apply today," wrote Yick. "In the coming months, we'll open up this pilot program to a limited number of other organizations around the world."

Google launched Street View in 2007 in five U.S. cities to capture and display images of places around the world. Since then the program has been expanded to 50 countries.

The Trekker cameras have been used by Google around the world to capture hard-to-collect images in the wild. In November 2012, Trekkers were used to collect images of more than 90 ski and snow resorts around the world, including in the United States and Austria.

In October 2012, Trekkers were used for another ambitious project—assembling images of the Grand Canyon and its trails and natural wonders.

Meanwhile, the Street View program remains under scrutiny both in the United States and in Europe after it was learned that Google was gathering the information street-by-street between 2007 and 2010.

In April, privacy regulators in Germany levied an $189,167 fine against Google to punish the company for not giving notice that it would be collecting user data as well as images using the Street View vehicle fleet after it began in 2007. Google didn't just collect photos of houses and businesses; it also intercepted data from WiFi modem transmissions that included personal data such as passwords, emails, text messages, users' Internet usage histories as well as other WiFi information. According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the Street View vehicles had collected more than 200GB of such payload data.