By: Nick Gambino

This week marks the 15th anniversary of Google Maps Street View. The on-the-ground view of city streets and rural roads comes in handy when you need more than a 2D map or bird’s eye view of where you’re going. It’s also fun to see if you end up in a picture outside your home with your face blurred out.

In honor of 15 years, Google is launching some major updates to Street View and has even unveiled a brand-new camera to capture views of every nook and cranny of every landmass on this planet.

The new camera looks a lot different than the earlier hardware which was clunky and required a huge amount of processing power. This one has more…personality. The 15-pound camera is a lot lighter (the previous iteration is well over 100 pounds) and looks like a robot with owl-like features. But they didn’t invest in a redesign simply for aesthetics.

The street view camera is meant to help take pictures in even the most remote spots of the world like mountain tops or even small islands. It has a modular build allowing it to be fitted with different sensors based on its objective or task. For instance, if it needs lidar they can add it. If it doesn’t need lidar, they can leave it out.

This will make it a lot easier on the people who’ve had to build out these cars and camera systems every time they needed to capture a new place. Often the need for so much computing power meant they would have to trick out the car so it can handle it. No more. They can place one of these 15-pound modular owl cameras on top of nearly any car with a roof rack.

“That allows us to both expand our reach and make sure that we can refresh the imagery more easily,” Director of Products for Google Maps, Ethan Russell, said. “Because we have flexibility about the cars we can put these on, this can help us build a more sustainable Street View fleet with cars like plug-in hybrids or fully electric cars.”

In addition to the camera, Google Maps has added a “go back in time” feature to Street View in iOS and Android apps. When you access Street View for a location, you’ll get an option to “see more dates” where you can browse previous captures from that area. This is something you’ve been able to do on the web, but now you can do it on your phone.  

That new Google Maps feature is available now. The new camera is currently being tested in Mountain View and will launch more widely in 2023.