Google Street View goes off the beaten track in Singapore

Google Street View goes off the beaten track in Singapore

Don't be alarmed if you see people walking around with green orbs mounted on backpacks along your usual running route.

google street view tracker
Runners Paviter Singh and Ben Flint carrying the trekker. (Photo: JustRunLah!/Larry Laydn)

SINGAPORE: Plans are afoot for Google to capture Street View imagery for running tracks along parks and nature spaces across Singapore by strapping cameras to runners. From Thursday (Apr 27), the search giant will partner local running group JustRunLah! to capture more than 30 running routes in Singapore. The aim is to cover more than 400km over the next few months and will include places such as Singapore Botanic Gardens, Mount Faber Park and MacRitchie Reservoir.

This is Google’s first ground-up Street View initiative in Singapore.

The idea was first brought to Google by running enthusiast Ben Flint at the end of 2016. Mr Flint had a brainwave when he was trying to run from Seletar to Dempsey "without touching tarmac", but was not aware of a possible route. Knowing that Street View had done similar mapping projects overseas, he wondered if something similar could be implemented here and got the ball rolling.

The project will see runners from JustRunLah! donning a backpack-like contraption called the Google Street View trekker. It is about 1.2 metres in height and there are 15 cameras sitting mounted in a green orb on top, capturing images which will later be stitched together to provide a 360-degree view. The runners are ironically, not advised to run around with the trekker, as it weighs between 18 to 20kg. For safety’s sake, walking is recommended.

"It's clearly designed to be ergonomic and comfortable. We'll just have to go a bit slower than we're used to," Mr Flint told Channel NewsAsia, adding that they plan to head out in pairs or threes so they can rotate the trekker if someone gets tired.

Veteran marathoner Paviter Singh, who will have a go at using the Street View trekker, said he had been trying to map out Singapore's running routes by scraping data when he heard about Mr Flint's idea.

"It's perfect, because it's a visual representation of where we can run. It's a utility for any kind of runner, not just an ultra-runner," he said of Google's mapping project.

paviter singh trying on tracker
Ultra-marathoner Paviter Singh demonstrating the use of Google's Street View trekker. (Photo: Diane Leow) 

Mr Flint also hopes this initiative will help bring people closer to nature, especially in a concrete jungle like Singapore. "People are so used to concrete and tarmac (and) there's all this lovely greenery ... If you go take a stroll, with this technology, you're not going to get lost," he said.

According to Google, one in five searches via its search engine is location-related. Google Street View was launched in Singapore in 2009. With this project, it hopes to make the tool more relevant for those who love running, as well as Singaporeans who are looking for new places to explore, said Ms Cynthia Wei, Google's Street View program manager (APAC).

Separately, Google announced that 30 new locations have been added to Google Street View. The newly mapped locations include parks and islands such as St John's Island, Japanese Garden and Punggol Waterway Park, as well as popular haunts such as Universal Studios Singapore, the SEA Aquarium and Japan Food Town in Wisma Atria.

"Many people have told us that Street View helps them in their trip planning when they're deciding places to visit while on holiday," said Wei, adding that these newly-added maps will give tourists a first glance of what Singapore has to offer.

Source: CNA/dl