Google introduces ‘time machine’ feature in Street View


Google has turned its Google Maps Street View into a time machine to let users travel back in time and see how places have changed.

The new feature will let users track changes in landscape, buildings, roads and entire neighbourhoods from around the world since the Street View mapping program began in 2007.

Users can now click on a new clock icon that will appear in the corner of the screen when using Street View on Google Maps on a desktop or laptop computer, firing up scrollbar-controlled time machine, changing the year and even season of the area or building they are currently looking at to see how it has changed over time.

‘A time traveller like Doc Brown’

“If you’ve ever dreamt of being a time traveller like Doc Brown, now’s your chance,” said Google Street View product manager Vinay Shet in a blog post. “We’ve gathered historical imagery from past Street View collections dating back to 2007 to create this digital time capsule of the world.”

Google’s Street View uses car-mounted cameras to capture street-level photos of the world, stitching the images together into a virtual representation of the real world overlaid on Google’s maps. Google’s cars have driven across most of the world, but this is the first time the search giant has made more than one version of the resulting images available to the public.

“Now with Street View, you can see a landmark’s growth from the ground up, like the Freedom Tower in New York city or the 2014 World Cup stadium in Fortaleza, Brazil,” said Shet.

‘A digital timeline of recent history’

“This new feature can also serve as a digital timeline of recent history, like the reconstruction after the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Onagawa, Japan. You can even experience different seasons and see what it would be like to cruise Italian roadways in both summer and winter,” he said.

Street View has primarily been used as a way of visualising directions to help users find and identify locations they are looking for, but the service has become increasingly popular among “armchair explorers”, who have used Street View to discover far away parts of the world without ever leaving home.

Google has been adding tourism and beauty hotspots to the service for some time, as well as the insides of some public places like train stations, airports and brick and mortar stores allowing users to view the inside of buildings too.

Google recently announced that it was to begin using a new algorithm that can read the house numbers in images on the service, and then correlate these with real addresses in order to improve the accuracy of addresses supplied in Google searches.

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