Google Street View is once again encouraging user-generated content from drivers. A new feature in testing will allow drivers to use their dashboard-mounted phone to become a mapping car. Reddit user /u/_-J-G-_ first discovered the feature, called “Driving Mode”, in the Google Street View app which is available on the Google Play Store. By using the phone’s camera, Google can record your journey and upload the data to be incorporated into the Street View database. With this feature, there’s no need for a 360° camera to contribute, and thanks to Google’s AI technology, faces caught in the shot are automatically blurred, along with any vehicle license plates, on the fly.
Perfecting this technology will allow Google to accelerate its goal of keeping Google Maps up-to-date. Although captures won’t be in full 360°, it’s hoped that with enough contributions, the images can be stitched together into a panorama such as those created by a proper Google mapping car. Google has already expanded out from the ‘Google Car’ model, with items such as backpacks and bikes, giving images of areas where cars cannot reach. Street View also already accepts content contributed from other users, but most people don’t own a full 360° camera.
It’s hoped that this new Driving Mode feature in Street View will help to democratize the service and reduce some of the privacy concerns raised, particularly where people who thought they were in private were scuppered by a car with a camera mounted on a pole. The improved user-generated system will also allow users to make in-roads in territories not currently mapped—including much of South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. It could also pacify some of the concerns of countries where Street View has been banned or restricted over privacy issues.
It’s not the first time Google has attempted to add a feature like this — it was first suggested as early as 2010, but the ongoing privacy worries led to it being shelved. With the addition of AI blurring rather than manual blurring, it looks like it’s finally ready for prime time.
The new feature seems to be in testing for some users with the latest version of the Google Street View app on Android, but it isn’t showing up on any of our own devices. At present, the only incentive for contributing is a warm glow of helping your fellow man (and Google), but Google already rewards contributors to Google Maps as part of its ‘Local Guide’ program, so it’s possible this will tie into that.
Featured image credits: Google on YouTube.
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