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Google Maps street view car catches us on run through the neighborhood [Commentary]

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My kids and I are on Google Maps - we're famous!

Want to see? Go to Google Maps and type in Flintlock Drive, Bel Air, MD and use the street view function (the little yellow man) to stroll along the street until you see me, also in yellow, pushing a stroller.

Just to look at it, you may not say "Hey, that's Erika Butler running down the street," but now that you know who it is, you might recognize us (well, me anyway, the kids have the wind/rain guard pulled down so you can't see them, just their legs wrapped up). But really, it's us.

Pretty cool, huh? We think so.

Here's how it happened:

When the weather is nice and I need to get in a run, I'll pack Henry and Emily into the double jogger and bring them with me. That in itself is an ordeal - they need drinks and snacks, perhaps a toy or two and their gigis (their blankets) wrapped around them.

It takes a while to get going, so when I am taking them with me, it's usually going to be around the neighborhood. I'm not going to pack them into the car, only to unload and get them into the stroller.

I have a six-ish mile route around my neighborhood, a good run that's even more of a workout when pushing a 55-pound kid, a 32-pound kid and a 30-pound stroller. They're usually pretty good running with me. They want to stop and pet the dogs we see, and they say hello to everyone. They'll occasionally start bickering, but that can happen when you sit next to someone in tight quarters for an hour. And usually about 4 miles in, they start asking if we're going home yet (if they're tired, that question starts at mile 2).

But back to the Google Maps: when the weather is nice, I often take them with me. We take the same route pretty much every time.

One day last fall, I think it was a Friday, we were out for a run and I saw this crazy-looking car driving down Flintlock Drive. It has a giant contraption on its roof. I saw it coming at us, then it turned down one of the courts. A minute later, it was back on Flintlock and heading toward us.

It really was one of the strangest things I've ever seen. Terribly out of place driving down a neighborhood street. It looked like a television camera strapped to the roof of a car. (which is kind of what it was) and I couldn't imagine what on earth it was doing in our neighborhood.

As it got closer, I could see some writing on it, but still couldn't quite make out what it said. Then it passed us and I saw "Google maps street view" on the driver's side. It was so weird, I couldn't take my eyes off it.

Until I saw that car, I had never given it a thought as to how Google made its street view. I guess I thought, for some reason, it had to be way more complex than driving down every single street in a neighborhood with a video camera on the roof of the car.

It must be in the editing that is the complex part, especially since it took so long between when we saw the car and when I finally saw it on Google.

I didn't check daily. Probably once a month I could Google Flintlock Drive on the map site and it wasn't until last week that I saw it.

There's no action in the street view - it's not a streaming video of the drive down the street. I'm no video editor, but it looks like a series of the best screen shots of the drive strung together to give the feel of real time. But in the pictures, I'm not running and the stroller isn't moving.

After I saw the Google Maps car, I Googled it. Besides the Google Street View Car, there's also a Street View Trike, a Street View Trolley, a Street View Snowmobile and a Trekker, all capturing the closest view possible.

According to Google, "the latest car has 15 lenses taking 360 degrees of photos. It also has motion sensors to track its position, a hard drive to store data, a small computer running the system, and lasers to capture 3D data to determine distances within the Street View imagery."

As it turns out, Google is pretty secretive about when and where its map car is going to be. From what I've read, lots of people will go to extreme measures just to get in a Google Maps shot.

I guess for me and my kids, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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