By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Anybody who has witnessed one of Google’s camera-cars touring the streets of Rio since the beginning of the year will certainly have taken notice. Depending on what one was doing at the time, and the general outlook toward such technology, one either jumps into shot to tell all their friends, or turn away to avoid getting caught on the internet for the world to see.
The last stages of the Rio mapping process began in March after initial testing in Belo Horizonte in 2009, and will doubtless provide some intriguing images of the Cidade Maravilhosa, its beaches and population.
Alex Dias, Director General of Google Brazil, says that the feature allows more than just a simple walk through the streets. “Street View will allow visitors to not only see the street as if you were on the sidewalk, but to make virtual tours… and find restaurants, parks and tourist spots with high precision and clarity.”
Google closed a deal with Fiat Brazil to deploy thirty of their Stilo model vehicles for the photographing process, each with a state-of-the-art camera system attached to the roof capable of capturing 360-degree horizontal and 290-degree vertical images.
The photographs will enable anybody to take a tour of Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon and Barra beaches without leaving their home. The coverage will not be limited to the city of Rio either, but includes other important regions including Petropolis and Niteroi, though its extent on the streets of less stable areas such as Complexo Alemao and Rocinha is still to be confirmed.
Controversy has dogged Google’s Street View ever since its launch in May 2007 when it covered only a handful of U.S. cities including San Francisco and New York, though within a year the majority of the States’ urban areas were covered.
As web geeks scoured the photos for wacky shots to post on their blogs, thousands also complained about their images being included on the internet without permission and questioning whether it was an unconstitutional invasion of privacy with users able to look directly into house windows.
Indeed the safety aspects of the service have also been called into question, with protesters calling the site an open invitation to burglars. Google has defended its position, saying that the photos are all taken from public spaces, and members of the public are able to request that they be removed or have their faces blurred from any image.
An announcement regarding the official release date of Street View Rio is expected soon.