Google Gali View

I came across two different news stories about Google’s mapping initatives recently. (Hat tip to Udhay Shankar for at least one of them.)

First up, there’s this long New York Times profile on the history of Google Maps, and what comes next.

And here’s a Verge piece on the Trekker, the human mounted imaging and mapping thingamjig that Google is using to map out trails, rivers, and places where Street View cars won’t go. Money quote:

The resulting Trekker is still relatively heavy at 42.5 pounds. A long neck extends from the backpack to the orb-like camera array, which comprises 15 cameras that capture images at a combined 75 megapixels. Trekker’s batteries last between six and seven hours, and fills its hard drive with 256 GB of data. And yes, Trekker floats — it’s watertight to 60 feet.

Google has already come up with self-driving cars to automate Street View picture taking. Now that they have come up with the Trekker and are also acquiring robotics companies, I hope they also come up with an autonomous walking robot.

Why you ask? Because it would be so damn useful in mapping Delhi’s urban villages. These villages, which existed back when Delhi was farmland and scrub forest, were eventually surrounded by planned neighbourhoods, but never actually replaced by them. They lost their farmlands, concretised themselves, and now function as fascinating parallel economies and legal / regulatory zones.

What’s important is that many of the villages have alleys rather than roads. Getting through an urban village is like a parkour challenge. A car couldn’t do it. But a walking robot might.

My little flight of fantasy is in large part spurred on by the joyous prospect of seeing a Google robot make its way through Mahipalpur and Munirka while the local Jats look on with “Dude, WTF” expressions. But urban villages aside, an articulating, narrow robot could do other useful stuff – map sewers, back alleys, and probably even more tasks that would only be obvious when the robot was actually built. So I hope it does happen.

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