Search engine Google will begin collecting images for a South African Street View feature on Google Maps.

In the coming weeks, Google, using a fleet of Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles, will drive around South Africa taking photographs of street scenes, covering Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Durban.

Street View is already available in more than 100 metropolitan areas around the world, but only in 12 countries in total.

It allows users to virtually explore and navigate a neighbourhood through pano- ramic street-level images.

It will, for example, once operational, allow Internet users to ‘stand’ on Maude street, in Sandton, panning 360˚ to view Sandton City, the convention centre and the nearby hotels. Tourists would be able to find informa- tion on restaurants and hotels, directions to venues and have a look-see at the surroundings, parking availability and the nature of the area.

House buyers will be able to view the house they want to buy, and develop a feel for the neighbourhood.

Businesses can also benefit from the Street View technology by embedding Google Maps free directly into their sites, helping them to promote a chain of hotels or raise awareness of a local library or restaurant, for example.

Images collected by the cars will be processed and stitched together, a tech- nological process that can take several months.

“We are not launching Street View [yet] – we are only launching the collection of data for Street View,” says Google country manager for South Africa Stephen Newton.

“The launch [of Street View] will be . . . way before the 2010 soccer World Cup.”

Google business product manager Jaroslav Bengl notes that collecting the data alone will take several months.

For those people concerned about pri- vacy, faces and number plates will be blurred in all images, says Bengl.

Google, organising the world’s data, as the company’s philosophy professes, faces growing concerns about privacy issues.

Bengl adds that anybody is welcome to post an online request to be erased, or the person’s house, or car, from an image.

“We respond in hours. We take it very seriously.”

“Street View is going to make South Africa more accessible both to locals and to international visitors,” says Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk. “It will give tourists a taste of the variety that the country offers, and a chance to research their holidays in advance, all at the click of a mouse. “Ahead of the World Cup, we’re pleased to have Google bringing us some of their most innovative technology so that we can showcase South Africa to the world.”

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Google and supplying our fuel efficient and environmentally friendly Prius for this groundbreaking project in South Africa,” adds Toyota South Africa senior vice-president: sales and marketing Andrew Kirby.

PUBLICATION: Engineering News
AUTHOR: Irma Venter
DATED: 11th October 2009