The digitisation of Britain's countryside has come a step closer with the announcement of a collaboration between Google and the Canal and River Trust to start capturing the canal network on the technology giant's Street View. Digital images already exist for the UK's roads, and now thanks to the new daft-looking Google Trekker backpack the same level of detail can also be produced in remote locations. It has already been used in the Grand Canyon and on New Zealand's Abel Tasman track; and the body responsible for the 870-mile Wales Coast Path are reportedly interested too.
The 18kg (40lb) Google Trekker backpack is fitted with a high tech camera mounted on a four-foot pole, which takes a 360-degree picture every 2.5 seconds. These can then be loaded onto Street View, to effectively make virtual footpaths available online through Google Maps. Just think; you'll be able to go for a walk without even having to leave your sofa.
Starting on Regent's Canal in London last week, the Canal and River Trust are spending a month walking the Trekker over 100 miles of the UK's waterway towpaths.
Wendy Hawk, corporate partnerships manager of the Canal & River Trust, said:
'We’re 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.'
Pascale Milite from Google, said:
'We are thrilled to be collaborating with the Canal & River Trust on such a fun project, and we hope to help boost the discovery of and make these historical canals accessible to more people in the UK and across the world through Street View technology.'
This cheesy video shows the backpack being used off-road in the Grand Canyon, and hints at Google's global ambitions for the technology:
Natural Resources Wales, the body in charge of the year-old Wales Coast Path, are reportedly interested in using the Google Trekker to capture the 870-mile route.
'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' a spokesperson is reported to have said.
For now the possibility has merely been mooted however, and the organisation tells us today that though this is something they'd be interested in for the future it’s at a very early stage and they are yet to enter into discussion with Google.
With enough backpacks and an army of willing volunteers there's no reason in principle why footpaths and fells all over Britain couldn't eventually have the Street View treatment. Whether or not that would be a positive development is debatable, but the speed at which Street View has managed to spread across our road network suggests that it is at least possible.
But though Google claim the Trekker can be used anywhere a person can walk, it seems obvious to us that its current size imposes pretty serious limits in terms of terrain. Until it can be miniaturised there aren't likely to be many volunteers keen to map the Cuillin Ridge for instance.