Fans of Charles Darwin can already tour their hero’s former abode, Down House, near London, on Google’s Street View service – but pretty soon they’ll be able to take a similar look around the cradle of his theory of natural selection, the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. A team from Google has just completed an imaging mission there in which they explored every nook and cranny of the rocky, tortoise-filled, equatorial Pacific outcrop – and they did so using a truly bizarre camera system.
Called the Street View Trekker, the system is an 18-kilogram backpack-mounted contraption comprising an outsize, articulated camera head, a system for levelling the tilt of said camera head, GPS antennas, a data storage system and a bunch of batteries. The spherical head incorporates 15 5-megapixel cameras – the same resolution as Street View cars use.
The Trekker got its debut on a mapping trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona last October. But the firm says it’s now completed the panoramic survey of the Galapagos and that imagery will be live on Google Maps later this year.
The picture above shows expedition member Daniel Orellana of the Charles Darwin Foundation – a partner in the Google venture – climbing out of a lava tube on the archipelago’s Isabela Island. The lava landscapes there “tell the story of the formation of the Galapagos”, says project leader Raleigh Seamster at Google’s maps division.
At 10 sites, she says, they imaged “giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies, navigated through steep trails and lava fields, and picked our way down the crater of an active volcano”.
The venture extends beneath the waves, too: the Catlin Seaview Surveyjoined in to collect underwater panoramic imagery around the islands. Gorgeous as its images are, they’re not just pretty pictures: the scientific aim of another partner in the project, the Galapagos National Parks Directorate, is to create a baseline against which changes to the submarine environment can be assessed over time as climate changes.