Is Google going to digitise our countryside?

Posted by Carey Davies on 20/08/2013
Spot the Google camera in this image

A new backpack-mounted camera which can be worn by walkers to capture images for Google Street View is being pioneered on Britain's canals. The Wales Coast Path could be next. Is our countryside about to get the Google treatment?

It's not exactly a lightweight piece of kit.

Google's 'Trekker'  backpack weighs 18 kilograms, towers four feet in the air and makes the wearer look a bit, well, ridiculous.

But the backpack is the latest innovation in the Californian giant's apparent quest to photographically document every square inch of the planet.

It packs a 360-degree camera and takes pictures every 2.5 seconds, allowing a walker to take images which can then be uploaded to Google Street View.

The technology will enable walking routes to be captured and digitised in the same way Google Street View currently enables users to see 360-degree images of streets and roads.

Pioneered

It's already been used in the US to capture trails in the Grand Canyon and is being tested on the Abel Tasman track in New Zealand.

Now the technology has arrived in Britain. The UK Canal and Rivers Trust is using the equipment to digitalise Britain's historic waterways, and  the Wales Coast Path could be next.

Natural Resources Wales, the Welsh government body responsible for Wales' natural environment, is planning to hold talks with Google.

A spokesperson for Natural Resources Wales said: “The Trekker would be an ideal way to showcase the unique attractions of the Wales Coast Path and we are very interested in working with Google on this exciting project.”

Tourism boost

The 870-mile flagship path is estimated to have brought in £16 million in its first year, and planners hope the Google treatment will boost its profile even further.

Similar hopes were expressed by Wendy Hawk, partnerships manager of the Canal and River Trust. She said: “We are delighted to be the first people in the UK to get the Trekker on our backs – it’s fantastic that our 200-year old network is being given a different lease of life thanks to cutting edge, 21st Century technology.

“The footage we get will allow millions of people from all over the world to see our canals, rivers and towpaths, and will hopefully encourage some people to make a trip to see them.”

The rest of the countryside?

All of which raises the prospect of larger swathes of our countryside being captured in Google's particular form of virtual reality.

Britain has 140,000 miles worth of footpaths and vast swathes of open mountain and moorland, so it would take a while. But the speed with which Google rolled out its Street View project, enlisting volunteers armed with Google technology to do the work, puts it within the realms of possibility.

So if you see a hill walker sweating up Helvellyn with a brightly coloured, slightly sinister-looking orb protruding from their head, better smile - you're on Google camera.

What do you think of  the Google Trekker technology? Amazing technology or infernal machines? Should our countryside be captured in this way? Let us know in the comments section below.



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Anonymous User
29/08/2013
As someone who enjoys long-distance hiking and in addition making up my own routes using less commonly tramped footpaths, this would help me enormously with planning routes. I'd love to carry the camera for them too to assist with the task of documenting the countryside - but would be concerned about where my own kit would go!
Anonymous User
04/09/2013
Thank god, no need to leave the sofa again!
Anonymous User
05/09/2013
I hope Google include the odd random real-life frame of mist and sudden zero visibility to remind less experienced walkers that the sun doesn't always shine. Having "walked" a path online is no replacement for proper navigation skills in remote countryside.
Anonymous User
08/09/2013
Street View is really brilliant in helping you find out where things are. Countryside view would be even better allowing you to access the best walks or, as they will popularise some walks, the most remote!!!
Anonymous User
03/10/2013
This is a great idea especially for the new All Wales Coastal Path which passes through beautiful and hidden coastal and country areas which can only be seen by walking the path. The Anglesey and Llyn Peninsula sections of the path are well documented with a good choice of guide books but some of the newly opened sections in Mid and South Wales are only shown on the static maps on the Welsh Government`s web site. As good as they are they are not reliable and can only be used as a rough guide. The Government recommends obtaining OS maps for the path but imagine the cost of purchasing these maps for the 875 mile length of the treck. A guide book is currently in the process of being published which is good news but the thought of following the path pictorialy on line would be amazing and would open up the path, and of course Wales, to the world!! But as someone who has completed 650 miles of the path by just following existing signs and various maps with plans to complete the route next Spring, I welcome this technology but I`m too old to volunteer to carry 18 kgs on my back!!

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