Google may be rich, but not even the multibillion-dollar tech giant can afford to send everyone on Earth to Hawaii. It can, however, bring Hawaii to everyone on Earth.
At least that's the goal of a new pilot project the company announced Thursday. Google will loan its Street View Trekker backpack — which sports an elevated, 15-lens camera — to tour guides on Hawaii's Big Island, kicking off a program to let third-party groups like tourism boards, nonprofits and universities add new locales to Google Street View.
"For the first time ever, this program will enable organizations to use our camera equipment to collect 360-degree photos of the places they know best — helping us make Google Maps more comprehensive and useful for all," Google explains in a blog post.
The Street View project has already ventured off-street in places like the Grand Canyon and Kennedy Space Center, but crowd-sourcing could broaden its horizons exponentially. It's unclear how many groups will be trusted with the 40-pound Trekker packs, but it sounds like Google wants to start slowly. "In the coming months, we'll open up this pilot program to a limited number of other organizations around the world," it said Thursday.
For now, though, the focus will be on the Big Island's diverse scenery, which ranges from waterfalls and rain forests to lava fields and active volcanoes. Google picked the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) as its pilot partner, and has already sent a field team to train HVCB on how to use the Trekkers. The company says it worked with HVCB to select "the most popular, well-trafficked sites" for Street View, including trails through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Mauna Loa Observatory, Onomea Bay, Akaka Falls, Waipio Valley and Pololu Valley, among others. After collecting its Big Island images and sending them to Google, HVCB will move on to the islands of Maui, Oahu and Kauai.
In its blog post about the project, Google argues the potential benefits are mutual. Not only will a more robust Google Maps likely draw more traffic from competitors, but partners like HVCB can raise the profile of places they want to popularize and protect.
"With 360-degree interactive imagery of the islands, people all over the world can see and explore the beautiful islands before they go, including some remote and hard-to-reach places they may never have discovered on their own," the post concludes. "We also hope this imagery will be used by our partners to increase awareness and interest in their locations, potentially increasing tourism."
Check out an ad for the new Street View Trekker program below:
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