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Google’s Street View Cars Are Now Giant, Mobile 3D Scanners

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Google’s got a hot new ride. The company has a new Street View car with updated cameras, and — surprisingly — a set of Lidar (Light, Detection and Ranging) cans! Google doesn’t have anything up officially about this, but Wired has the scoop on the new vehicles. The camera system upgrade — the first in eight years — greatly improves the image quality while simplifying the rig. In the main ball, Google is down from 15 cameras to seven, making the whole package a lot smaller. These 20MP cameras are aimed all around the car, and the pictures they take are stitched together into a spherical image for Google Maps. There’s more to the cars than just the ball though: there are also a pair of “HD” cameras that face directly left and right. These are dedicated to reading street signs, business names, and even posted store hours; those images are funneled to Google’s cloud computers for visual processing. The end result of the new cameras will be prettier Street View shots, with higher resolution, better colors, and fewer stitching errors. The better images should also result in more data for Google’s various visual feature-detection algorithms.

Wired’s report focuses almost entirely on the new cameras, but I think the the most interesting additions are the two LIDAR pucks that hang just below the camera ball. These are the ubiquitous Velodyne VLP-16 “Puck” sensors, allowing the to car “see” in 3D in 360 degrees. These $8,000 Lidar sensors are most commonly used in autonomous car prototypes, so to see them on a Street View car is unexpected. Don’t expect the Street View cars to start driving themselves anytime soon — as Google Street View’s Technical Program Manager Steve Silverman says in Wired’s video, the Lidar sensors “are used to position us in the world.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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