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Google’s new Street View camera rigs are a huge deal — here’s why

Google has given its Street View cameras an overhaul for the first time in eight years. The new rigs, which will be fitted to roofs on the company’s roaming Street View cars, now feature HD cameras to provide clearer images.

The smaller ball on top of the rig features a total of seven 20 megapixel cameras. There’s also a pair of cameras for capturing still HD images and cans for laser radar.

Google’s new set-up is designed with its machine learning programs very much in mind. Essentially, the company wants to index the real world in the same way it did the web.

With sharper images Street View cars will be better able to map the real world around them, by read road signs, retail store names and everything in between.

The company’s image recognition algorithms will also be able to process things like house numbers, which will offer more accurate results for Google Maps, Search and Assistant users.

In an interview with Wired, the VP of Google Maps, Jen Fitzpatrick said users might be able to ask: “What’s the name of the pink store next to the church on the corner?”

Beyond that, the new cameras could even deliver things like opening hours of stores to the algorithms.

She added: “These are questions we can only answer if we have richer and deeper information.”

Help for Waymo?

There’s also the possibility for Google’s self-driving car arm Waymo to benefit from the improved Street View rig.

“The team collaborates on things from time to time,” Fitzpatrick hinted.

Of course, higher quality cameras providing more detailed images are bound to raise privacy concerns in some quarters.

“We haven’t seen or heard of places where there are additional sensitivities,” Fitzpatrick adds, before explaining license plates and faces will continue to be blurred.

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