Why is Google putting lidar on its new Street View cars?


Earlier this week, your friends at Arstechnica published a little piece about Google’s new Street View cars and their inclusion of lidar sensors. On top of the new cars, you’ll spot an integrated system that includes 7 cameras and two Velodyne Pucks, though it’s uncertain exactly which version of the puck it is. These sensors aren’t for automating the cars, and we know this because they’re placed at an unusual angle—45° rather than the 15° you’d commonly find on self-driving cars.

So what’s the longterm plan? Ars Technica speculates:

They could use the data to build better 3D building models for Google Maps. They could provide the data to self-driving car companies, which often need Lidar scans of areas in order to autonomously navigate them. In fact, Google’s setup looks identical to Here’s “True Collection Vehicle” which is purpose-built for creating self-driving car maps. Here’s setup has four cameras on top and a Lidar sensor mounted at a 45° angle!

To that, I would add my own speculation that Google is gathering outdoor building data that they can connect to interior captures taken by sensors from Matterport or NCTech, both companies that have partnered with the Google Street View initiative. With a 3D data set that bridges the indoors and outdoors, we could get the indoor navigation so many have been asking for. We’d also get better AR, and–much to Google’s pleasure I’m sure–much more precise ways to show us advertising.

For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.



About Author

SPAR 3D Editor Sean Higgins produces SPAR 3D's weekly newsletters for 3D-scanning professionals, and spar3d.com. Sean has previously worked as a technical writer, a researcher, a freelance technology writer, and an editor for various arts publications. He has degrees from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, where he studied the history of sound-recording technologies. Sean is a native of Maine and lives in Portland.

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