Street viewing: Google updates its view of Charlottesville

Google bills itself as the company that makes knowing a little bit more about nearly everything and anything just a touch (of a mouse) easier, but few citizens get the chance to witness the cogs of the omniscient Google machine whirring into action. However, the $38 billion company recently deployed a tentacle into Charlottesville– a Street View car.

On the afternoon of July 25, Albemarle resident Denny King spotted the vehicle headed east on Barracks Road near the 29/250 Bypass and Finley’s Exxon. He opened his window and snapped a photograph.

“I took the picture because it represents today and the immediacy of our information and news," says King, a lodging specialist for Hollywood-based film crews.

“Not many years ago our ears would shriek to the sound of dial up," says King, "but today we can type in our great aunt’s address and we can see her house and front yard that we used to play in as a child.”

And that's just part of what Street View is all about.

A feature of Google Maps, the popular way-finding service, Street View was launched in 2007 with a few key cities and now provides pedestrian-level imagery on all seven continents. Unlike the overhead photographs for Google Maps licensed from governments and private firms, Google makes Street View possible with its own global fleet that includes Google trikes, trolleys and, even snowmobiles.

“Street View cars have special cameras," explains company spokesperson Sean Carlson, "that take photographs as they drive down public streets.” 

Carlson says that Google decks out its latest Street View cars with cameras equipped with 15 lenses to capture 360-degree views, and he notes that the ensuing photographs receive computer processing to make them ready for use on Google Maps.

“It’s amazing,” King says. “When I initially posted this photograph on my Facebook, I got all these comments about Big Brother always watching– is it a curse or a blessing?”

Carlson contends that Google employs "cutting-edge face blurring technology, which helps make sure that passers-by in the photographs can’t be identified, and we also blur legible license plates."

While a reporter's follow-up questions to Carlson asking when the previous Street View images were taken and how long the car will be in Charlottesville went unanswered, at least one citizen wonders if the behemoth company can keep up with the pace of change.

“Why does Google even bother?” gibes Timothy Morris, a rising third-year at UVA’s School of Architecture. “At the rate Charlottesville’s developing 29, the Street View imagery will be outdated in 15 minutes anyway.”

4 comments

Street View is a really awesome innovation. It has proven indispensable for us stalkers.

R.I.P.: Uncle Eddie Savitz

Google's net worth is estimated to be a little closer to $200 Billion. Just saying.

I'm all for privacy but this isn't anything you can't see from the street. The Google cars stay on public streets (unless they make a mistake, which I'm sure is rare.)