Google once again roams the streets of Luxembourg

The internet giant is currently working on a hardware update for Street View. By September, the complete update will be carried out.

Technology

Uwe HENTSCHEL

The internet giant is currently working on a hardware update for Street View. By September, the complete update will be carried out.

Michiel Sallaets realizes the need to renew the data set for Luxembourg as he heads to his appointment in Howald. The communication manager of Google Belux, who came from Belgium, does not arrive in time, because his navigation system is outdated and does not recognize some roads.



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So it’s high time for an update. And that is precisely what Google is currently working on. This is not an update of Google Maps data, but Google Street View. The data group’s free online service provides 360 degree shots of the streets, shows the facades of the houses, the surroundings and everything related to them. All this on the basis of huge amounts of images that were collected beforehand using special cameras installed on vehicles.

Once pixelated, always pixelated

The most recent images of Luxembourg date from 2014, but much of the street footage dates back to 2009 and 2010, when Opel Astras and their cameras first crisscrossed the streets of the Grand Duchy, dragging many shots and at least as much commotion.

The reason: citizens who did not want their house to be photographed did not have the possibility to oppose it in advance. It was certainly possible and quite simple to ask that one’s house or land be made unrecognizable, but only afterwardsthat is, once the images were already on the network.

This sparked a number of protests. This is why the National Commission for Data Protection stopped the action at the time until the facts were clarified. Finally, Google won its case, justifying its decision on the one hand by the enormous work that an opposition upstream of the data collection would imply, and on the other hand by the legal situation in Luxembourg. This indeed allows it.

Thirteen years later, nothing has changed. But most people got used to it a long time ago. “We only move around in public space,” says Michiel Sallaets. Therefore, what Google is doing is in no way contrary to applicable law. Furthermore, the system’s algorithms are so reliable that every face and license plate is automatically pixelated, he assures. It’s extremely rare that it doesn’t work, and if someone finds an error, it’s fixed later.

The same goes for the pixelation of photos of his own land, he points out. This means that whoever has decided to make their property unrecognizable need not worry that it will be visible again when the images are refreshed.

This has advantages, but also disadvantages. And for the employee of Google, it is to be expected that the disadvantages prevail in such an approach. “Making unrecognizable is irreversible., he said. Even if the house or land is sold and the new owner wants his house to be visible on Google Street View, for example because he runs a café or a shop there, this will no longer be possible, according to Michiel Sallaets.

Data traffic by post

For just over a month, Street View vehicles have been criss-crossing the country. Most of the streets have already been photographed, everything should be in the box in September. But it will still take several months before the data is updated on the network. “Millions of photos are taken on each trip., explains the Google employee. And then, you still have to put all the shots together. That takes time.

The large amount of data is also the reason why the material is not immediately uploaded to a cloud, but sent by post to be processed by the IT department. Thus, a rather discreet computer is installed in the rear of the car and allows the recordings to be stored on data carriers. When a storage medium is full, it is placed in a usual envelope and then set off on an analog journey: “It is indeed still a bit old school”, says Michiel Sallaets with a smile, “but one could not other”.

For the shots, there are several cameras. At the very top of the approximately 15 kilo apparatus attached to the roof of the vehicle is an organically shaped blue block with a total seven high-resolution cameras that can film in all directions. Below there are two more very high-resolution cameras that allow you to capture the facades of the houses in even more detail.

“This makes it possible, for example, to photograph the opening hours of stores, often written on the doors, and to make them available to the user as additional information”.

In the neighboring country, the competition takes pictures

Where the system reaches its limits is when even the motorist can no longer move forward. As for example when construction sites block the road or currently in the city, the Schueberfouer, for which part of the city center is also impassable for weeks. “In such cases, we must give up reshoots and wait for next time that we will update the material for these areas”, explains the Google spokesperson.

But on the whole, all roads in the country are traveled as far as possible. Even the small secondary roads and paths are reviewed this time. The material available for Luxembourg will therefore not only be updated, but also extended. In a few months, Luxembourg will therefore be able to be explored almost entirely on a screen, on a mobile phone or on a tablet – unlike Germany, where Google has come up against many citizens’ data protection concerns.

In 2010, the 20 largest cities were also to be photographed there. But since sometimes entire streets had to be rasterized due to the large number of contradictions, Google gave up covering the rest of the country. This gap has meanwhile been filled by Google’s competitor Applewhich launched its service a few years ago. look around followed suit.

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