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Google uses special tricycle to take Street View off-road

The 250-pound, 9-foot-long vehicle powered by athletes takes photos where Street View once had no access: hiking trails, college campuses, national parks etc.

March 03, 2011|By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times

Google Street View has peddled its images around the globe, in every major metropolitan area of the U.S. and in 27 countries as a popular addition to its online mapping service.

Now it's pedaling to capture more images.

Google has unveiled the latest photos of places that used to be out of its sights, including hiking trails, university campuses, historic landmarks and national parks.

Google used to stick to places where its vehicles with mounted cameras could roam. But now it's using an off-road vehicle that it invented to go where no Street View camera has gone before. The 250-pound, 9-foot-long tricycle has a camera mounted 7 feet above the back.

Google senior mechanical engineer Daniel Ratner dreamed up the trike, which can give virtual tours of places cars can't go, such as the Santa Monica Pier. The company hires athletes to ride the heavy tricycle, which has been in use since 2009.

So far lots of places have been eager to welcome the unusual contraption to boost their online visibility. But can the backlash be far behind?

Since launching in 2007, Street View has given Google its share of public relations headaches, with privacy watchdogs, lawmakers and regulators hounding the Internet giant in this country and abroad. The biggest headache was its admission that its Street View vehicles had inadvertently collected private data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks while cruising neighborhoods.

Google is still facing heavy scrutiny from governments around the world concerned that it overreaches — even as Israel weighs whether to allow the service in the country despite concerns that it would be a tool for terrorists.

So, as the trike gives Google unprecedented views beyond public streets into private property, will it stir up new controversies over Street View?

Consumer Watchdog spokesman John Simpson said: "Google continues to push the envelope as far as it can and increasingly intrudes in our lives without asking permission. How long will it be before the Internet giant deploys teams with hand-held cameras to photograph places where the trikes can't go?"

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

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