Considering the decidedly off-road locales its camera rigs have visited in recent years, Google’s Street View has become a bit of a misnomer. The program’s specially-designed equipment has descended the depths of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, recorded from the tip of the Burj Khalifa, traversed zip lines above the Amazon rainforest, and walked the precipices of Mount Fuji to form a library of panoramas so incredible as to make the latest subject, Yosemite’s iconic El Capitan, sound mundane by comparison. But that’s unfairly dismissive — for what Google’s calling the “first-ever vertical Street View collection,” the company partnered with expert climbers to capture photos along sheer rock face wall.
Fitting squarely into the amazing-to-see-but-terrifying-to-imagine category of extracurriculars, renowned climbers Lynn Hall, Alex Honnold, and Tommy Caldwell mounted Google’s 360-degree camera array at photogenic spots — “The Nose,” “Changing Corners,” “Great Roof,” and “Texas Flake,” to name a few — along El Capitan’s 3,000 foot granite. It wasn’t a trivial task — Caldwell and Google engineers had to MacGyver a camera support frame with cams and ropes — but the team was able to accomplish the shoot in just a few days.
To mark the feat, Google has created Yosemite Treks, a navigable page of the El Capitan imagery with notes on each interesting point. (Two intriguing factoids: Warren Harding and two friends completed the first ascent of “The Pioneer” in 1958, and the “Great Roof” is the most difficult part of the route.) “We’re bringing this environment that is accessible to so few to a ton of people, people who could never have been up there in the past,” said Caldwell.
Google has never let the enduring Street View go neglected. Ever since it launched the Trekker Loan Program in 2013, a volunteer effort to bolster the Street View’s library, the company’s sorted incredible footage from landmarks modern and ancient, man-made and natural. And the company’s continued to add features around the service, most recently Google Maps support for photo sphere sharing.
That’s not to say the project’s gone on entirely without a hitch– France and Switzerland fined Google’s Street View division several years ago for violating privacy regulations, and the service has generated protests in Japan and the Czech Republic — but it’s without a doubt managed to build the most comprehensive database of its kind.
That’s not stopping competitors from taking it on, though. Apple’s in the process of deploying sensor-equipped vehicles for the purpose of “[collecting] data which will be used to improve Apple Maps.” That “data,” according to 9to5Mac, entails 3D images and Street View storefronts for a future version of Apple’s mapping application on iOS.
But Google doesn’t have much cause for worry, at least not yet. Apple’s vehicles have so far been spotted in Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York, a far cry from the thousands upon thousands of metros of which Street View boasts. And something tells us Apple’s three-dimensional imagery won’t include universities of the world, exotic zoos, or the Lamborghini Museum in Italy at launch.