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New Google Street View Cameras Will Fuel AI Assistants


Everyone’s favorite creepy Google tool is about to help Google get even creepier. Wired reports that the cameras Google uses to create imagery on its Street View service have gotten their first upgrade in eight years. Now, the vehicles use eight cameras to capture sharper images of the roads, a rig better suited to 2017 than 2009.

But perhaps the most important cameras on the vehicles are the two high-definition units facing perpendicular to the direction of travel. Those units record images of stores, road signs, and other objects at the side of the road in incredible detail—and information gleaned from the data will feed Google’s ever-hungry machine-learning algorithms.

The idea, according to Wired’s Tom Simonite, is for software to work out from such images the names of stores, the kinds of services they offer, distinctive features of the building, and even opening hours. The ultimate goal is for Google's search engine and AI assistant to answer questions like “will the Turkish sandwich shop with the green sign, just down the street from my closest Chipotle, be open at 6pm?” without breaking a sweat.

There’s potential for more up-to-date results, too. New 360-degree cameras allow users to upload their own panoramas to Street View, and the company hopes cities and other organizations may do the same to keep things fresh. All of that data will be indexed by Google’s algorithms—so who knows, maybe one day, a handwritten “sorry we’re closed today” sign might stop a wasted journey for a sandwich. Well, we did say it was getting creepier.