Google Maps takes 3D photos down to street level

Now that it’s offering 3D views of the landscape via Street View it can surely only be a matter of time before Google has tracking cameras attached to every object in the world. Street View is deeply impressive but there are a few things that need fixing.

The Las Vegas Convention Centre home of CES: Though clearly this photo wasn’t taken during the annual tech fest/crowd nightmare.

Officially announced today Street View is an add-in for Google Maps which provides street-level 360 views of five major US cities (San Francisco New York Las Vegas Denver and Miami). According to Google it will “soon expand to other metropolitan areas” though we’re not holding our breath for a street-level view of Sydney any time real soon given that the service was briefly blocked from access by Australian IP addresses.

In areas where Street View is enabled Google highlights streets in blue allowing you to drag a person-shaped marker onto an area to get a close-up street-level photo. Once the initial image is in place you can drag across the picture to get a 360 degree view or click on in-image navigational arrows to move around and explore your neighbourhood. Neatly Google also moves the underlying map while you’re doing this.

Now this could be a highly useful navigational aid but it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Since the photos (obviously) aren’t real time there’s no guarantee that where you’re going actually looks like this anymore. This is a particular risk in Las Vegas one of the launch cities where building activity proceeds so rapidly that even regular visitors are liable to get confused. Some of the photos also have a fair degree of sun blur making it hard to find anything useful.

It’s inevitable that someone’s going to complain about privacy infringements to which we imagine Google will respond with its customary mixture of disdain and pointing out that photographing the streetscape isn’t actually illegal. On the other hand there could be a neat sideline in businesses paying to allow you to actually enter their buildings providing a Second Life experience that’s actually modelled on the real world. C’mon Larry and Serge you know you can afford it.

Las Vegas by day: A night view might be more useful for your average gambler.