Tidy up the yard — the Google car’s in the area

By Mark Baker | Local News | |

The high-tech street-view camera has been prowling Eugene-Springfield area streets

We Googled “Google Car,” but we still couldn’t find it.

All kidding aside, rumors have been cruising in recent days that one of Google’s infamous Street View cars is in the Eugene-Springfield area this week, collecting fresh images for Google Maps.

But we looked all over town Thursday, to no avail. Guess you have to be in the right place at the right time.

Several Register-Guard employees reported seeing the Subaru Impreza hatchback with the “Google Maps” logo and the 15-lens, 360-degree panoramic camera atop it.

It was on Hayden Bridge Road. It was on Coburg Road. It was by the Lane County fairgrounds.

A Springfield man called Thursday afternoon to say he’d seen it on Mohawk Boulevard in Springfield.

“I think it was Tuesday,” Douglas Cornejo said.

In case you are not aware, the Silicon Valley Internet giant’s fleet of Street View cars are the vehicles that shoot images that enable Internet users to go to www.google.com, click on “maps,” then zoom down on an image of the Earth, right into most any city in the world, and see 360-degree street views.

Google maintains an aura of mystery about the Street View cars, however, never revealing where they are at any given time.

A Google spokeswoman told The Register-Guard on Thursday the same thing that it told a New York Times reporter last month, according to a story posted on the Times’ website: “I’m not able to share details about the location of the car in your area because routes are often subject to change based on factors such as weather, driving conditions, speed of collection, etc.,” spokeswoman Anne Espiritu said in an e-mail.

Espiritu did confirm that one of the Google cars was in the Eugene-Springfield area this week “collecting refreshed imagery for Google Maps.”

Well, it’s about time.

Zoom down on Eugene on the current version of Google Maps, down to Franklin Boulevard by the University of Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena and, well, there’s no arena. Just a bunch of towering construction cranes.

Images around the city would indicate that the Google car must have last been here in the summer of 2009, because construction of the arena began in February 2009, and people can be seen in the images walking around in shorts under sunny skies.

Google began shooting Street View images in spring 2007 in cities across the United States, according to Espiritu. Since then, it’s expanded to cities in more than 30 countries, she said.

“We’re really excited about redriving Eugene to provide both locals and tourists with refreshed street-level views,” Espiritu wrote. “Updating the imagery is something we do from time to time as part of our effort to provide users with the richest, most up-to-date maps possible.”

Once the images are shot, they go through computer processing, and the faces of people on the streets are blurred, as are legible license plates, she wrote.

Google’s Street View practice has been controversial with privacy advocates around the world. It’s also been banned temporarily in some nations, such as Austria, Australia, India and the Czech Republic, according to various news reports on the Internet.

In Germany last year, a Google Street View car captured the bizarre image of what appeared to be a naked man crawling into the trunk of his car, according to a story in The Daily Telegraph of London.

Eugene-Springfield: You’ve been warned.