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Google Maps teams map US beaches

15 August 2013, 13:21

Florida - Gregg Matthews fancies himself a lumbering Star Wars character of sorts as he treks along a popular Florida beach.

He wears stout hiking sandals on the squishy sand and uses ski poles for balance as he shoulders an 18km backpack, a blue-orb with 15 cameras extending over his head.

"It attracts a lot of attention," Matthews laughed about all of his gear, while trodding along Panama City Beach.

Matthews and his trekking partner, Chris Officer, are contracted through Visit Florida, the state's tourism agency, to gather images for Google Maps.

All told, they have already walked more than 320km of Florida beachfront, each logging up to 12km a day with the camera orb. Each camera on the orb takes a shot every 2.5 seconds as they walk.

Their quest: to create panoramic views to place online of every Florida beach - similar to the internet giant's Street View - which has taken photos of everything from ordinary homes and businesses to world-famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State building.

Visit Florida has partnered with Google in the effort to map all 1 328km of Florida's beaches. And for good reason: tourism is Florida's top industry, accounting for 91.4 million visitors last year and $71.8bn in spending that employed more than 1 million in the state.

The project began in late July when Matthews and Officer began walking from the Alabama-Florida border.

After mapping Florida Panhandle beaches, they will hopscotch over to Florida's Atlantic coast and move south.

Eventually, another camera team will take over, curling past Miami's South Beach and other hotspots aiming to finish the project sometime in November.

Google has a similar project with mappers trekking the trails of the Grand Canyon. But the Florida project is the first large-scale beach mapping project.

The mapping teams were contracted through Visit Florida. Agency spokesperson Kathy Torian said the project is entirely funded with public money and Visit Florida budgeted $126 000 for a private contractor to oversee the production of images to be sent to Google.

The mappers are paid a straight fee of $27 per mile, but no expenses, she said, with the walkers covering all of their own transportation and accommodations. The only money Google will pay is $1 000 at the end to buy images from the state, she said.

- AP

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