Imagined by the co-founder of Google, Larry Page, Street View, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary, seems tailor-made to adapt to the metaverse and augmented reality.
However, virtual and immersive worlds were not relevant when this tool was launched, which allows users of the Google Maps mapping service to move along a street, road or path via a panoramic view.
The metaverse has since become a central issue in tech, with companies like Meta, the parent company of Facebook, investing billions of dollars to create digital universes where avatars can work, play and shop.
“Larry Page took a camera and hung it on the window of his car,” Steven Silverman, technical program manager at Google, told AFP, pointing to the garage where the Californian group manufactures cameras for cars, bicycles , backpacks and even snowmobiles that take 360 degree photos around the world.
“He (Page, editor’s note) was talking to his colleagues at the time and saying, ‘I bet I can do something with it.’ That’s how Street View was born,” recalls Mr. Silverman.
Google recently announced an immersive mode that combines Street View imagery with artificial intelligence to create “a rich digital replica of the world,” Google Maps vice president Miriam Daniel explained in a blog post. Experiences.
Users will be able to explore places of interest (monuments, districts, restaurants) by flying over them like a drone thanks to 3D aerial views.
The feature will roll out this year for the cities of Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, and London.
“You can virtually soar above Westminster to view the neighborhood and the stunning architecture of places like Big Ben up close,” Ms Daniel described.
– Maps to the metaverse –
Google cameras have taken photos in more than 100 countries and territories, capturing places such as Mount Fuji, Grand Canyon National Park, the Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.
“If you want to know what going down a ski slope is like, imagine where that sled went,” Silverman says, pointing to a burgundy vehicle stored in a garage in the town of Mountain View in the city. Silicon Valley (California).
“This tricycle is really funny because it went around Stonehenge and we also put it on a barge that went down the Amazon,” he continues.
Mr. Silverman also shows off a backpack camera set that was mounted on a zipline in the Amazon rainforest to get a bird’s-eye view.
The panoramic photos that Google has accumulated over the years could be useful in the metaverse, judge Carolina Milanesi, analyst for Creative Strategies.
“The idea of a digital replica of the real world is undoubtedly an area that Google will invest,” she predicts.
For Mr. Silverman, Street View has provided users with a virtual experience for more than a decade, and its images naturally lend themselves to representing the world through virtual tools.
“Ideally, we will be present in the metaverse, this world towards which we are heading”, he affirms.
Many other technology companies have flocked to the metaverse, a catchall term that describes the network of virtual and immersive universes where millions of users are already present.
Facebook renamed itself Meta last year to mark this strategic turning point and developed its virtual reality platform, Horizon Worlds, available in North America as well as in France and Spain.
The Japanese giant Sony and the parent company of Lego announced in April to invest $ 2 billion in the video game studio Epic Games, behind the blockbuster Fortnite, to develop projects in the metaverse.
For its part, Street View, initially considered “a crazy idea” by Larry Page, has become a “decisive tool in our mapping efforts by allowing us to visualize the most recent information on the world while laying the foundations of a more immersive and intuitive map,” said Ethan Russell, product manager at Google Maps, in a recent blog post.