Google Street View cameras to bring Israel National Trail alive

Tech giant teams up with Israel's Society for the Protection of Nature.

May 4, 2015 18:02
3 minute read.
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SPNI youth members on Israel's National Trail with Google Street View cameras . (photo credit: SPNI)

Equipped with 18-kg. Google Street View Trekker cameras strapped to their backs, a group of young hikers will soon set out on the Israel National Trail and bring the 1,100-km. footpath to life on computer screens around the globe.

Over the next three months, about 80 members of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel’s youth movement will take turns hiking the trail, wearing the two specially built cameras that recently arrived in Israel for the project. Their efforts will amount to the longest trail ever photographed for Google Maps and the first that stretches across the entire length of a country, according to SPNI.

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“We are proud to cooperate with SPNI and delighted to map the Israel National Trail for hikers and users from Israel and around the world,” said Google Israel CEO Meir Brand. “When this project is completed, the Israel National Trail will be joining some of the world’s greatest heritage and nature sites on Google Maps, like the Pyramids of Giza, the Amazon River and Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temples.”

Inaugurated by SPNI in 1995, the Israel National Trail begins in the country’s northern tip at Kibbutz Dan and extends all the way to the organization’s Eilat Field School on the shores of the Red Sea. Along the way, the trail passes through the Galilee, the Carmel mountains, the Mediterranean coastline, Tel Aviv, Rosh Ha’ayin, Elad, the Modi’in region, the Judean lowlands, archeological sites at Beit Guvrin, the Negev Desert and the mountains surrounding Eilat.

Google launched its Street View project in 2007, enabling web surfers to explore neighborhoods, historical areas and see panoramic street-level images in 66 countries on all seven continents. Since the project began, photographs have been taken on more than 9 million km. of roads.

While the project started with cameras fastened to pickup trucks, lasers and GPS tools, the technology today has expanded to use specially designed devices that can capture 360 degrees of images and withstand varying conditions, according to Google. Today, in addition to the Street View Car, the equipment includes snowmobiles, tricycles, trolleys and the Street View Trekker backpack that will be used on the Israel National Trail.

Outfitted with a camera system on top, the wearable Trekker backpack enables image gathering “while maneuvering through tight, narrow spaces or locations only accessible by foot,” Google explained. The first such backpack was used to navigate and photograph the terrain of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

In addition to the Grand Canyon, the Israel National Trail will be joining a number of other natural sites around the world that have been documented on Google Maps, including the Khumbu Valley at the foot of Mount Everest in Nepal, the Colorado River, Gombe National Park in Tanzania and the frozen tundra of Churchill, Canada.

A select few Google Maps treks are available underwater, rather than on land – the results of special diving cameras that have photographed places like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.

Describing the Israel National Trail as “an unforgettable experience,” SPNI emphasized how the footpath “embodies the nature, landscape, heritage, tradition, religions and cultures that make up the kaleidoscope of modern Israeli society.” Along the trail, travelers are able to learn the story of Israel, as well as its people, heritage, flora and fauna, the organization added.

“SPNI sees a great importance in presenting and exposing the country and its nature to both Israelis and world citizens,” said SPNI CEO Moshe “Kosha” Pakman.

“Exposing the Israel National Trail through Street View will encourage tourists from Israel and abroad to experience with their feet and their senses the various cultures and landscapes of Israel, to fall in love with them and to take action to preserve them,” Pakman added.

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