Google’s Street View cameras get a high-res update focused on AI

Google has changed up the camera tech used in its roving fleet of Street View vehicles – the cars you sometimes see driving around with a spherical contraption atop their roofs. Wired reports that Google Street View cameras are getting an upgrade for the first time in eight years, which will mean clearer images in the consumer-facing Street View product, as well as better color rendering – but the camera upgrade is more important to Google as a way to help improve its mapping info.

The refined Street View hardware captures HD images from all sides, and can provide raw data to feed image recognition algorithms, potentially offering key data for maps and business information including place names, opening hours, methods of payment accepted and more – all of which is often displayed prominently in shop windows. Google currently rewards users for crowdsourcing this kind of information, but Street View cameras are tireless and never require incentives to contribute.

Google’s machine learning and AI investment means it can do a lot with higher resolution imaging data from its Street View camera cars, its engineers tell Wired. And better image quality, leading to better, more accurate and up-to-date business data, leads to better results for advertiser’s using Google platforms, which their core business in the end.

Mapping imagery is also a key desirable product for a range of other companies, including anyone trying to build autonomous vehicle technologies. Google said that it does indeed collaborate with Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving car tech subsidiary, per the report, but did not elaborate further and said the exchange of info is a two-way street.

The new Street View cars started capturing imagery on the roads last month, and will gradually roll out to more spots around the world.