Take a Hike Via Google's Camera Trike

Four Midpeninsula Open Space District parks get now on the online map's street view.

Want to go for a hike at Rancho San Antonio Park but wonder what you're in for? In the past, you took recommendations from a friend or hikers' forums.

Now you have Google Street View—made for exactly those places where there is no street.

From five parks in the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, to Tunghai University in Taiwan, to Palazzo Reale di Caserta in Italy, Google has gone to places where only walkers, equestrians or mountain bikers have gone before.

A human-powered mountain trike, a version of Google's familiar camera-mounted Prius, took Google image collectors into spaces much too tight for the familiar Street View car fleet, Deanna Yick, a Google spokeswoman, said Tuesday.

Google unveiled the trike, its developer and the site to business publications Monday, along with interviews with its developer, Dan Ratner, an engineer who drew his inspiration from the pedicabs plying San Francisco's Embarcadero. It also announced the uploading of the new image data to the public Monday, via its Lat Long blog post, "Pedaling to New Places with Street View."

Although Google first unveiled "street view" imagery of park lands in 2009, Monday's upload of several well-loved Bay Area hiking sites and other destinations around the world is the largest collection of such visual data the company has made available thus far, Yick said.

"So many of our folks are outdoor enthusiasts," Yick said. "You can really preview the trails you might want to go on, when you're wondering, 'Where does this go, and what might I see at the top?'"

Or even if there might be a view at all, for those of us who are lousy at topographical maps

 "We're definitely excited that we have a new way to communicate to the public all the trails that free and available to them 365 a year," said Leigh Ann Gessner, spokeswoman for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

Ratner experimented with a mountain bike frame, and ended up developing a 250-pound, 9-foot-long mountain trike that pulls a generator and carries cameras studding a 7-foot pole, Yick said. It uses the same quality technology that its Street View cars do.

Google's earliest forays onto parkland was at the city of Palo Alto's Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, and those uploaded images attracted a lot of interest. MROSD Web coordinator Vicky Gou proposed putting the district's open space parks on Google Maps as a project, Gessner said. 

MROSD issued permits in October 2009 to Google to capture image data at five parks: Rancho San Antonio, above Cupertino and Los Altos and Los Altos Hills; Purisima Creek Redwoods, overlooking Half Moon Bay; Fremont Older, near Cupertino and Saratoga; Russian Ridge, above Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto; and Pichetti Ranch, above Cupertino.

The district manager proposed a range of trails that are accessible to the public and the trike, she said. "Some trails go through through forest, through grassland; some have beautiful views."

Yick listed four of the five open space preserves on the Monday list of uploaded data. "I know they did have some issues at Purisima," Gessner said. "It's really steep, and the trike is really heavy."

Now would-be hikers can see flat terrain, twisting woodland paths and soaring views—and even other hikers—before setting foot on the trail.

Developing and riding the trike did take some doing, Yick allowed.

"You have to get used to it—you don't lean the way the way you do with a bicycle," she said. "You would be amazed at the agility and the turning radius of it, that allowed us to get into some tight areas." 

"We did test it to make sure it could handle rough road," she said. The bumpy trails at the Arastradero Preserve was the testing ground, to make sure the trike and its machinery could survive the off-road use, she added.

The open space district is working with Google to correct some trail names at Rancho San Antonio park and others, Gessner said. The district's website has a tool for finding parks called "preserve finder" that is powered by Google already. This may be a way by which the "street view" could be seen, as well, she said.

Maybe we should call it "trail view," instead.


Sites that were uploaded Monday

Silicon Valley:

Pichetti Ranch Winery (MROSD)
Fremont Older Open Space preserve (MROSD)
Russian Ridge Open Space preserve (MROSD)
Rancho San Antonio Open Space preserve (MROSD)

Lake Cunningham Park (city of San Jose)

Other locations:

Balboa Park, San Diego

University of San Diego

Worcester Polytechnic, MA

Pittsburgh Riverfront, PA

Sea World Orlando, FLA

Powerscourt Golf, Ireland

Dublin Botanical Gardens, Ireland 

Kew Gardens, U.K.

Tunghai University, Taiwan


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