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Google's Street View Cars Are Now Giant, Mobile 3D Scanners (arstechnica.com) 42

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."

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

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  • I know of thousands of city streets that don't even have the first generation of street view yet. When, if ever, will Google get to them? Oh, they're great when it comes to medium to large cities, but they've practically ignored small towns. Even in cities of 5,000 to 15,000 some streets are missing and the ones they've photographed are from years ago.

    It makes me wonder if self-driving cars would be practicable in small towns and rural areas. Nobody has the data yet. Even my Garmin GPS misses a lot.
  • Waymo (Score:4, Interesting)

    by denbesten ( 63853 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2017 @08:15PM (#55151091)

    ...two LIDAR pucks ...allowing the to car "see" in 3D in 360 degrees. ... used in autonomous car prototypes, ... "are used to position us in the world."

    Think TFA answered it right there. Knowing the precise position of the streetview car helps develop better maps for the Waymo autonomous cars.

    • Which would be all well and good until things move around. Like with road construction. Utility work. New construction. Demolition. A nice shiny new traffic light pole. Autonomous cars are hard because while the typical street or highway is an artificially constructed environment, it can be a very dynamic environment.
      • Which would be all well and good until things move around. Like with road construction. Utility work. New construction. Demolition. A nice shiny new traffic light pole.

        If the car depended only on the map data, you would have a point. But the car also watches what's happening in front of it, so you don't.

        • Yep. Finding a 90% correlation means the car gets very good at localizing its exact location. Plus, who's to say the Waymo cars won't someday be able to update the map?

        • If you thought I was trying to win an argument by winning a word game, you'd have a point. But I'm not. So you don't.

          More information is better than less information, but only if it's used properly. My strong suspicion is that while they're getting all this data, they don't have a good way of using it on live, on-the-road, autonomous vehicles without human curation. So I don't think they're using it for Waymo. I think they're using it to make their streetview images stitch together better.
  • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 ) on Thursday September 07, 2017 @12:53AM (#55151843)

    The company has a new Street View car with updated cameras, and -- surprisingly -- a set of Lidar (Light, Detection and Ranging) cans!

    Who the fuck would be surprised by the company which owns Waymo using Lidar in updated Street View cars?

  • Since they killed the old interface and with it the "CityBlock" flash viewer, their stuff is only usable on high-end computers, and even there, the user experience is much worse than with the old viewer.

    Webgl and all the newfangled javascript stuff are supposed to be better and faster than flash, what went wrong with it? What features does the typescript interface in flash offer that are not available with modern browsers in javascript + webgl? Or is it just a matter of new. less skilled programmers trying

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