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Mapping Silicon Valley's Open Spaces—And the World's—Via Google's Camera Trike

Google Street View giving outdoor enthusiasts more detailed information about remote areas where they recreate.

Want to go for a hike at Vasona Lake County Park or the Heintz Open Space Preserve but wonder what you're in for? In the past, you took recommendations from a friend or hikers' forums.

Now Google Street View could offer you more detailed information than sometimes unreliable maps—made for exactly those places where there is no street.

From five parks in the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, to Tunghai University in Taiwan, to Palazzo Reale di Caserta in Italy, Google has gone to places where only walkers, equestrians or mountain bikers have gone before.

A human-powered mountain trike, a version of Google's familiar camera-mounted Prius, took Google image collectors into spaces much too tight for the familiar Street View car fleet, said Google spokeswoman Deanna Yick.

Google unveiled the trike, its developer and the site to business publications this week, along with interviews with its developer, Dan Ratner, an engineer who drew his inspiration from the pedicabs plying San Francisco's Embarcadero. It also announced the uploading of the new image data to the public Monday, via its Lat Long blog post, "Pedaling to New Places with Street View."

Although Google first unveiled "street view" imagery of park lands in 2009, this week's upload of several well-loved Bay Area hiking sites and other destinations around the world is the largest collection of such visual data the company has made available thus far, Yick said.

"So many of our folks are outdoor enthusiasts," Yick said. "You can really preview the trails you might want to go on, when you're wondering, 'Where does this go, and what might I see at the top?' "

Or even if there might be a view at all, for those of us who are lousy at topographical maps

"We're definitely excited that we have a new way to communicate to the public all the trails that free and available to them 365 a year," said Leigh Ann Gessner, spokeswoman for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

Ratner experimented with a mountain bike frame, and ended up developing a 250-pound, 9-foot-long mountain trike that pulls a generator and carries cameras studding a 7-foot pole, Yick said. It uses the same quality technology that its Street View cars do.

The open space district is working with Google to correct some trail names, Gessner said. The district's Web site has a tool for finding parks called "preserve finder" that is powered by Google already. This may be a way by which the "street view" could be seen, as well, she said.

Gary Hinze January 18, 2013 at 02:57 AM
Santa Clara County Parks, Lake Vasona and Los Gatos Creek Trail. Oak Meadow Park. Some small parks may be seen from the surrounding street view.

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