October 29th, 2008
Recently I’ve been reading lots on the imminent Google Street View release for much of Europe, and have discovered a few titbits which I found interesting.
As you already know, the Street View images are taken by convoys of cars driving around major cities with 360° cameras mounted on the roof. You can see many photos of the cars on Flickr.
Throughout Europe the images are being taken by a fleet of Opel Astras which are mounted with the 9 directional cameras, a GPS unit for positioning, as well as SICK Laser Range Finders and 3G/Wifi aerials.
Driving these cars all over is a massive undertaking for Google, purportedly costing some 500 million Euros, so they’re obviously gleaning as much location based information as they possibly can while touring the world. The laser range finders are probably to help measure up 3D buildings, while the location of wifi networks will greatly improve the geolocation api and 3G network strength might be handy for a company that is developing mobile phone software.
In Europe, Google Street View is already available for cities in France and Spain. Other European countries where the car as been spotted, and it is assumed will be available “soon” include Germany, the UK and Italy (the Flickr group has a complete list).
Throughout Europe, Google have apparently been using the same fleet of Vectras, but re-plating them with the relevant country’s local licence plates. This seems to me an unnecessary effort – people drive between France, Germany and Spain all time – but I assume having local plates prevents any extra hassles from the local authorities.
The cars spotted in the UK are also Opel Vectras, which means they were not purchased in the UK (the Vectra is sold under the Vauxhall brand in the UK). However, they are not the same units used on mainland Europe as they, like all UK cars, are right-hand drive.
This means the cars must be from Ireland, where right-hand drive Opels are sold, and have then been re-plated with UK plates. The initial “LJ08″ tell us they were registered between March and September of this year in Wimbledon, London.
I can find no evidence of these cars being spotted in Ireland, or Street View being planned for Ireland. But if the cars started life there, and will presumably go back to Ireland once the UK mapping is complete, it must be quite high up the list of countries to be added.
So Who Is Next?
With this week’s launch of Spanish Street View, lots of folk were moaning about the lack of UK street view and, according to this French article we’ll have to wait a lot longer: it claims Germany is next in Spring 2009 before the UK and the Netherlands sometime later.
However, based on the Flickr car-spotting, I think this information is incorrect and UK and Italian Street View will be coming before Germany, and both before the Netherlands.
The Street view cars were first spotted around France in May of this year, and a subset of the images made it into Google Maps by July 2nd, just in time for the Tour De France. The rest of the images were added on October 15th, 5 months after they started capturing images.
Looking at the Flickr images of the Street View cars in various areas around France, all the photos that were taken in September and October are in areas that are not included in the October 15th roll-out.
Looking specifically at Paris, which was included in the October 15th roll-out, the most-recent images of the car driving around are July. Similarly, Flickr photos of the cars in Madrid (included in the October 28th roll-out) are dated late July and August, but it has not been spotted since then. So, I’m pretty certain that no images taken past August have made their way online yet.
The UK cars were initially spotted in London around the middle of July, and continue to be spotted around smaller UK cities well into October. It’s a similar story in Italy with the major cities being mapped months ago. However, the major cities of Germany are still being photographed as late as this week.
Meanwhile, sightings in The Netherlands have been few. The cars started out in Amsterdam, where the whole operation is based, but appear to have gone straight to France and Spain without taking pictures of the city.
For France and Spain the initial launches centred on a couple of major cities, although images have certainly been taken in much more of those countries. One reason for this is apparently bandwidth – serving the millions of images can overload even Google’s servers – but another factor must surely be that those images were simply taken first. In the UK and Italy, major cities such as London, Edinburgh and Milan were finished months ago while in Germany they’re still photographing Berlin and in the Netherlands they may not have even tackled Amsterdam.
For this reason I reckon that either Italy and the UK are the next countries for Street View, probably Italy first but both before the year is out. Then Germany and the Netherlands will come later on, and perhaps even Ireland much later on.
Update: And the day after I post this, Street View is launched in Italy! UK Street View may be sooner than I thought…