A pedicab-like vehicle mounted with an 8-foot-high camera has been rolling around the pedestrian walkways of the University of Pennsylvania to collect panoramic images of the campus for Google Maps’ Street View feature, which gives users detailed, street-level views of map locations over the internet.
Officials say the photos of Penn’s tree-lined Locust Walk mall and other places will allow prospective students and their parents to get a good feel for the campus, give incoming students a way to map out the best route to their classes–and let alumni fondly remember their school days.
“We see this as an opportunity…for people to see as much of Penn as possible from their computer,” said Marie Witt, University of Pennsylvania vice president for business services. “Students can show their parents where they’re living, where the student union is, where their favorite classroom building is.”
Google Inc. has been using car-mounted cameras to prowl streets in the U.S. and around the world. The human-powered version prowling Penn’s campus allows coverage of pedestrian-only areas on college campuses, in public parks, and at theme parks, as well as along hiking and bicycling trails, as Google seeks to expand coverage of its maps.
The effort comes as Google faces complaints from many individuals and institutions that have been photographed around the world. Since launching in 2007, Street View has expanded to more than 100 cities worldwide.
Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of the industry news site Search Engine Land, called the new effort a good public relations move by Google.
“This is a nice way for them to say ‘Hey, look, Street View: It’s really warm and fuzzy,'” he said. “It’s not just about taking pictures of people’s houses. We can find these footpaths that people want to go on and walking areas, places people will like.”
The 250-pound vehicle, which resembles the pedicabs that carry tourists around Philadelphia and other cities, has the cyclist pumping the pedals up front, with the camera mounted on a tower in the back. On the rear is a red generator along with a large white chest that looks like it might dispense ice cream but actually contains the computer recording the digital images.
On June 19, the tricycle trundled through Penn’s quads enclosed by student housing buildings and along campus footpaths, drawing stares from students and employees.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Caitlin Hanrahan, 28, a nursing student. “This campus is really confusing … and when you try and explain to people how to get to the building, people get lost all the time. I think something like that, where you can see a picture of it and what you have to walk through to get there, would actually be really helpful.”
Lyndsey Hauck, 25, eating Chinese takeout on a bench in front of a green campus pond, dove for her cell phone to grab a picture as the tricycle apparatus swooped by, ignored by ducks and turtles even after it got stuck on the path and needed a slight push.