Google Street View, a taste of the metaverse?

Google Cameras has taken photos in more than 100 countries and territories, including places like Mount Fuji, the Grand Canyon National Park, the Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. (Photo: 123RF)

Mountain View is the brainchild of Google co-founder Larry Page, the 15-year-old Street View appears to be tailor-made for the metaverse and augmented reality.

However, virtual and immersive worlds weren’t in the news when this tool was launched, which allows users of the Google Maps mapping service to navigate a street, road, or path with a panoramic view.

Since then, the metaverse has become a central issue in technology, with companies like Meta, the parent company of Facebook, investing billions of dollars to create digital universes where avatars can work, play and shop.

“Larry Page took a camera and hung it on his car window,” Steven Silverman, Google’s head of technical programs, told AFP, pointing to a garage where the California-based group makes cameras for cars, bikes, backpacks and even snowmobiles that take 360-degree photos. around the world.

“He (Page, editor’s note) was talking to his colleagues at the time and saying, ‘I bet I can do something about it.’ Thus Street View was born,” Mr. Silverman recalls.

Google recently announced an immersive mode that combines Street View images with artificial intelligence to create a “rich digital replica of the world,” said Miriam Daniel, vice president of Google Maps, in a blog post.

Users will be able to explore landmarks (monuments, neighborhoods, restaurants) by flying over them like a drone thanks to 3D aerial views.

This feature will appear this year in the cities of Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo and London.

“You can virtually soar over Westminster to see the surroundings and the stunning architecture of places like Big Ben up close,” Ms. Daniel described.

Maps to the Metaverse

Google Cameras has taken photos in more than 100 countries and territories, including places like Mount Fuji, the Grand Canyon National Park, the Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

“If you want to know what it’s like to go down a ski slope, imagine where that sled went,” says Silverman, pointing to a burgundy car stored in a garage in Mountain View, Silicon Valley, California.

“This tricycle is really fun because it went around Stonehenge and we also put it on a barge that was sailing the Amazon,” he continues.

Mr. Silverman also shows off a camera backpack that was set up on a zipline in the Amazon rainforest to get a bird’s eye view.

The panoramic photos Google has amassed over the years could be useful in the metaverse, according to Judge Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies.

“The idea of ​​a digital copy of the real world is undoubtedly an area where Google will invest,” she predicts.

For Mr. Silverman, Street View has provided users with a virtual experience for more than a decade, and its images lend themselves naturally to representing the world through virtual instruments.

“Ideally, we will be present in the metaverse, in this world that we are heading towards,” he says.

Many other tech companies have gravitated toward the metaverse, a catch-all term for a network of virtual and immersive universes that already has millions of users.

Facebook renamed itself Meta last year to mark this strategic turning point and developed its Horizon Worlds virtual reality platform, available in North America as well as France and Spain.

Japanese giant Sony and parent company Lego announced in April a $2 billion investment in video game studio Epic Games, behind the blockbuster Fortnite, to develop projects in the metaverse.

For its part, Street View, originally called a “crazy idea” by Larry Page, has become “a crucial tool in our mapping efforts, allowing us to visualize the latest information about the world, laying the foundations for a more immersive and intuitive map,” said Ethan Russell, manager on Google Maps products, in a recent blog post.


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