Homeless in Vancouver: Smile! The Google Street View car is back in town

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      A Google Street View car—with its distinctive panoramic camera roof mast—was seen Tuesday morning (August 7) in the Fairview neighbourhood.

      I watched it pass twice through the 1400 block of West Broadway Avenue: once traveling eastbound just after 10:15 a.m. and then westbound at 11:02 a.m.

      Since I began blogging in 2013, Google’s Street View cars have been as nearly predictable as comets, arriving in Vancouver every two years—first in 2014 and again in 2016—both times in early May.

      So a visit was to be expected in 2018 but not, in fact, as late as August.

      Google Street View cars then and now

      A May 1, 2014, sighting of a Google Street View car in a Fairview back alley.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      In both 2014 and 2016 the Google Street View camera platform I saw driving around Vancouver was a 2011 white Subaru Impreza, bearing Ontario licence plates and partially vinyl-wrapped in a map-themed design in Google’s corporate colours of green, blue, yellow, and red.

      The panoramic camera array atop the car was also a 2011 vintage, boasting 15 spherically-arranged lenses with a total resolution of 75 megapixels.

      The Google Street View car that I saw on West Broadway today represents a major 2017 platform upgrade, both in terms of car and camera.

      Another look at the Google Street View car seen today on West Broadway.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The car itself was a 2017 Hyundai Elantra GT, bearing California licence plates. The body of the car was completely skinned with a vinyl wrap depicting a mountainous, cloud-shrouded, panoramic landscape.

      According to a 2017 YouTube video from Google, there are three different landscape wraps for the new Street View Cars: the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, and the European Alps.

      The 2017 camera/sensor array is also a major technological upgrade over eight-year-old hardware—both simpler and more sophisticated—using only seven 20 megapixel cameras, for a total resolution of 140 megapixels (nearly twice the previous camera).

      According to an Ar Technica look at the new and improved Street View cars, in addition to the seven, spherically positioned cameras (which produce the panoramic street views), there are two “HD” cameras, positioned left and right, to capture readable text from street signs, business signage, and even posted store hours. These HD images are run through the latest iteration of (probably A.I.-driven) optical character recognition (OCR).

      The camera mast array also now includes a pair of Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors—very useful for measuring distances and capturing three-dimensional data.

      I don’t know why I take such delight in photographing the Google Street View Car when it comes to Vancouver but I do, and I’m stupidly happy that this year I was lucky enough to continue my streak. I really thought the biennial visit might have occurred in May and that I had missed it entirely.

      I also like the fact that if the Google Street View car was recording on its eastbound trip down West Broadway, then it captured my bike and orange-backed trailer for all the world to see, locked to a sign pole and loaded with a very healthy quantity of neatly bagged returnable beverage containers.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.