Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Street View Army

    Google's Street Views have caused controversy more often than not. Sometimes for privacy issues, sometimes for security reasons. But whatever the media has to say, we can't deny the fact that Google Street Views has brought the entire world at your finger tips. You can visit places that you would not be able to visit ever. You can walk the roads, that you had only imagined of treading. You can experience for yourself, various cultures, events, religions and lives of people across the globe all at the comfort of your home. You can visit the deserts, the snow clad mountains, the giant rivers or the gushing waterfalls. Today, let's take a look at the efforts Google is taking to capture the world for us.

Google Street View Car


    Aha! We all know this vehical. More popular than the Mercs and the BMWs, this street view car has roamed the streets of many a cities since May 25, 2007. Street Views started out as an experimental project with a SUV packed with several computers in the back; cameras, lasers and a GPS device mounted on the top. The car drove around the streets of US, to capture the first images of the Google Street View. Google then switched to a van for a brief period, before switching to a fleet of cars that scaled up the Street View project throughout US and around the world.



    After several iterations of the car and camera technology, the latest car has 15 lenses taking 360 degrees of photos. It also has motion sensors to track its position, a hard drive to store data, a small computer running the system, and lasers to capture 3D data to determine distances within the Street View imagery.

Google Street View Car with the camera assembly


Google Street View Trikes

    Some of the most interesting and fun places around the world cannot be visited in a car! And Google soon realized this and one day while mountain biking, Mechanical Engineer Dan Ratner realized he could combine his favorite hobby with Street View to explore new places, and set to work building a bicycle-based camera system. And so the Street View Trikes came into being somewhere in 2009. And as a result of the trikes, As a result, we’ve been able to see the parks and trails, university campuses, and even sports stadiums.

 Google Street View Trike with the camera assembly

Google Street View Snomobiles
     
    Once Google was able to take the Trike to all of these interesting places, they got to thinking about where else they could go and had the idea of putting their Street View equipment on a snowmobile. In typical Google fashion, they were able to put this together over the course of a few weekends using some 2x4s, duct tape, and extra hard drives wrapped in ski jackets to last through the freezing conditions. Fortunately the folks at Whistler Blackcomb were just as enthusiastic, so now we can explore, even the Whistler in Street View.

Google Street View SnowMobile with the camera assembly

Google Street View Trolleys

    With the success of the Street View, Google now had to get into the buildings, monuments and museums, and to achieve this, there was need for something small that would fit through museum doorways and navigate around sculptures. Again Google wore its thinking cap and came up with the compressed push-cart lovingly dubbed Trolley, to bring the museums around the world to our homes.

 Google Street View Trolley in action

 Google Street View Backpacks
    When you consider the myriad of locations to which the Google Street View team has been – from the Amazon rainforest to the Antarctic and just about everywhere in between – it’s kind of surprising that until now it hadn’t set foot inside a place pretty much on its own doorstep: the Grand Canyon. How could Google possible over-see this. To capture the images of the Grand Canyon which is accessible by foot alone, Google came up with a special camera-laden backpack dubbed the Trekker. “The Trekker" — which is controlled by its operator via an Android phone, automatically gathers photos as he walks. This enables the collection of high-quality imagery from places that are only accessible on foot.


The Trekker

    Well that's not all. If you thought that Google just brings to you the images from places above the Earth's surface, then be amazed! Google has now added its first underwater panoramic images to Google Maps, the next step in their quest to provide people with the most comprehensive, accurate and usable map of the world. With these vibrant and stunning photos you don’t have to be a scuba diver—or even know how to swim—to explore and experience six of the ocean’s most incredible living coral reefs. Now, anyone can become the next virtual Jacques Cousteau and dive with sea turtles, fish and manta rays in Australia, the Philippines and Hawaii. The experience was made possible by the Catlin Seaview Survey, a partnership between the global insurance company Catlin Group Limited and nonprofit Underwater Earth. The survey used the SVII - an underwater camera with a depth range of 100 meters -- was used to continuously capture thousands of 360-degree panoramas, giving people the opportunity to take virtual dives.

Glimpse of the Under-water street view

The SVII in action

    Hope you find this article interesting and continue enjoying your journeys across the globe with your very own Google Street View...
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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rail Radar - Map your Train Live!


    Rail Radar - An interactive map that allows users to watch the movements of trains that are currently running in India. This means that you can now know the status of your trains live! Rail Radar is a real time tracker of the Indian Railways passenger trains. This live tracker is shown on our very own Google Maps and this long awaited system is a result of a collaboration between the CRIS - Center for Railway Information System and RailYatri.in.

    Since this is a live tracking system of the Indian Railways, a few questions that will pop up in the minds who have ever travelled by railways will be - "Is this system really reliable? Is the data accurate? Can I trust the Rail Radar?" Well, the system is reliable and you can trust the data since the information and intelligence behind the Rail Radar is extracted and harnessed from volumes of data from the official Indian Railway's train running operational data. With regards to accuracy – this is fairly accurate in the normal running scenarios. However, there are several factors that can affect a train while it is on its route. Weather, breakdowns, congestions, local control-office directives, and more. RailRadar tries to continuously update this information. However, since the data on the Radar is displayed few minutes later than the actual, the tourists should double check the train running information using the traditional train status search mechanism – also offered by TrainEnquiry.com

    At present the Rail Radar is configured to refresh every 5 minutes. For security and regulatory reasons, the information published  on the Rail Radar is delayed by 5 or more minutes. Apart from this, the system has to do a lot of data crunching before the data is updated on the map. This to contributes to the delay.

    The Rail Radar system has a really cool feature in it. If the system is able to capture the location of the request based on the IP, then the Google Map that is used in the system pans to that location. Now; isn't that cool? So, if you are in Pune, then chances are that when you open up Rail Radar in your browser, you will be taken to Pune, which happens to be a junction in Maharashtra state. It also shows the number of trains that are currently active and also the percentage of trains that are delayed.

    Well my take on the entire application...
  • The Indian Railways needed just such a kind of system, since India has got the largest network of railways in Asia.
  • This system is really a  big boon to the frequent train travellers, who have experienced the agony of waiting for delayed trains at railway stations.
  • The application makes use of really cool Google Maps Satellite view and shows train icons as map markers.
  • Clicking on the train icon, shows you the details of the particular train and a simple mouse over gives you the name of the train you are looking at.
Train Details - On Mouse-over
 
Train Details - On Click
 
  • The User Interface(UI) of the application is not so good, and with 2 big adds at the bottom and bottom-right will be a big turn off for visitors.
  • Overall a very good and much required application for the people travelling by railways in India.
    You can visit the application at Rail Radar and take the benefits of this fabulous application. Do share with us your take on this brand new Google Maps powered live train-tracking application - the Rail Radar.
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