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Picture This: Google Street View Rides the Amazon


New York, Sep 29, 2011

Have you ever imagined floating down the Amazon River or taking a hike through one of the most remote rainforests in the world? Now you virtually can – and from the comfort of your couch.

Google is taking its Street View project to the Amazon River basin to capture images of the river, surrounding forests, and neighboring river communities. A key feature of Google Maps and Google Earth, Google Street View stitches together pictures taken just above eye level so that internet users can explore a 360-degree panoramic of areas around the world.

In partnership with the Foundation for a Sustainable Amazon (FAS), Google will photograph the Amazon and Rio Negro Rivers and rainforests of northwest Brazil. By capturing images of these areas now, FAS and Google hope to demonstrate the effects of climate change and widespread deforestation on the landscape. The Amazon project represents the biggest challenge to Google’s Street View equipment to date, which was first designed to work over well-maintained roads.

When Google Street View was first launched in 2007, a fleet of cars mounted with cameras photographed a few of the biggest U.S. cities. But as the service began to expand into cities and rural areas around the globe, Google’s equipment had to be modified. Areas inaccessible by car – such as narrow streets, pedestrian zones, and even ski resorts – are photographed by specially adapted tricycles, known as “Google trikes,” and snowmobiles.

To capture the beauty of the Amazon, Google described in a blog post that it will pedal its Street View trike “along the dirt paths of the Amazon villages and maneuver it up close to where civilization meets the rainforest.” For the rivers, Google will mount its camera equipment onto a boat and take photographs as the boat floats down the river.

To assist with this amazonian project, perhaps Google will look to standards developed by the U.S. standardization community. The American Boat and Yacht Council, a member and accredited standards developer of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), has developed a number of safety standards for boating. One such standard, ANSI/ABYC H-26-2011, Powering of Boats, helps to determine the maximum power for propulsion of outboard boats by evaluating the suitability of power installed in inboard boats and determining maneuvering speed. Another, ANSI/ABYC H-40-2008, Anchoring, Mooring and Strong Points, guides the selection, design, construction, and installation of fittings and equipment for anchoring, mooring, docking, lifting, towing, and trailering of boats.

Google introduced its Street View trike in October 2009 to photograph off-road areas including Stonehenge and London’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Since then, the bicycle-based camera system has traveled parks, trails, university campuses, and sports stadiums. Standards from ASTM International, an ANSI member and audited designator, could help to ensure a smooth ride along the Amazon’s dirt paths. ASTM F2711-08, Standard Test Methods for Bicycle Frames, establishes test methods for determining the structural performance of bicycle frames, including frame fatigue (horizontal and vertical loading) and impact strength. ASTM F2043-09, Standard Classification for Bicycle Usage, covers bicycle usage conditions and a system of identifying bicycles and components for use within that system.

Google’s Street View snowmobile was introduced in preparation for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, in February 2010 to take images on the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Slopes. From handgrips to head lamps to snowmobile seats, ANSI member and accredited standards developer SAE International has developed a number of standards for snowmobiles, including:

So whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or a stalwart couch potato, you can experience the far corners of the earth, with a little help from standards.

Amazon rainforest here we come!

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