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 — literally — pedaling to capture more images.
Google on Monday unveiled the latest photos of places that used to be out of its sights: hiking trails, university campuses, historical landmarks, national parks, etc.
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 on the back that takes pictures from 7 feet in the air.
Google senior mechanical engineer Daniel Ratner dreamed up the trike that can give virtual tours of places where cars can't go, such as the Santa Monica Pier. Athletes are hired to pilot the heavy tricycle, which has been around 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 allowing the service in the country despite concerns of terrorism.
So, as it gives Google unprecedented views beyond public streets into private property, will the trike bring controversy over the Street View feature back into focus?
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 handheld cameras to photograph places where the trikes can’t go?”
Those owners who want their private property featured on Street View can check out the feature on this page.