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Off the Grid with Google

John Bailey, program manager for Geo Education on the Google Earth Outreach team, talks about visually mapping places where the Google Street View car can’t go

Backpacking through valley with mapping camera

On a recent trip to the Arctic aboard the Ocean Endeavour, a small cruise ship operated by Adventure Canada, John Bailey was one of the many notable guests on board. As we explored the western coast of Newfoundland and eastern edge of Labrador in search of polar bears [DB1] and icebergs, Bailey was there with his Terminator-like backpack (I’d later learn it was Google’s Street View Trekker), visually mapping places the Street View car can’t access. He also answered a few questions about his work and where it’s taken him.

CAA Tell us about the Google Street View Trekker, and where in the world it’s been.

JB In 2012, we introduced the Street View Trekker, a wearable backpack with a camera system on top, and our newest Street View camera platform. The Trekker is worn by an operator and is walked through pedestrian walkways or trails on foot[DB2] , automatically gathering images as it goes. That imagery is then stitched together to create the 360-degree panoramas you see today in Google Maps.

So far, the Trekker has travelled to some breathtaking natural wonders and world heritage sites, such as the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, the Galapagos Islands, the historic pedestrian paths in Venice and more.

CAA How did you start working for Google?

JB My path to Google developed over a decade. When Google Earth was released in 2005, I was a postdoc working for the Alaska Volcano Observatory. Through a friend we set up a meeting with Rebecca Moore at Google, who liked our work. Moore went on to found the Earth Outreach team (the team I’m on now). I developed a collaboration with her team, not just around volcano data, but with me acting as a connection between the scientific community and Google. Then two years ago, I decided to leave academia at the same time that the role of program manager for Geo Education became open.The Geo Education program’s mission is to work with teachers and students to empower them to leverage Google’s Geo Tools to drive geospatial thinking as a fundamental learning and life skill in global education. One of the many ways we’re doing this is through storytelling using Street View imagery.

CAA Where is Google’s technology going to be in five, 10 years? How will this help travellers?

JB Our goal at Google Maps is to build the most accurate, useful and comprehensive map for our users around the world. Adding imagery of faraway places as well as spots from around the corner is all part of that mission.