You might not have to leave the house to get a taste of that local restaurant your friends are always recommending.
Google is taking its street view technology indoors, and the Capital Region is next on its list.
You’ve probably seen Google cars roaming around with cameras strapped to their roofs. These photographers have a new mission now: to capture interactive, 360-degree, panoramic views off the street and inside businesses.
The virtual tours are free exposure for restaurants, retail stores, fitness centers, universities and other locales. But the new project also bolsters Google’s Maps service by taking its users off of public streets and into private and public establishments.
“If it’s a restaurant you’re thinking of going to, wouldn’t it be more beneficial if you could see not just the outside but the inside, too?” said Jim Hilker, a Google certified photographer. “That’s the benefit right there. The business owner can really attract and show off the essence and professionalism of their establishment.”
By October’s end, the public will be able to access virtual tours of local restaurants like Angelo’s Tavolo in Scotia and Aperitivo Bistro in Schenectady or check out local collectibles without stepping foot inside Zaria & Bella’s Gift Shop. Google Maps navigation and controls let Web surfers explore these places from their couch.
These are just a few of the local businesses Google will soon be publicizing.
Hilker and a team of Google-certified photographers will be in the area Oct. 18-21 to capture the interior of businesses in Schenectady, Albany and Saratoga Springs. It’s one of three planned visits to the region, said Hilker, who has captured more than 100 businesses since Google hired him in May.
Google has a lot of ground to cover with the new program, and Hilker is in charge of the New England region . In the last few months, he and a team have stormed Upstate New York — from Buffalo, Rochester and Finger Lakes wine country to Lake Placid and Watertown.
It’s been a crash course in regional culture for Hilker, who described Buffalo businesses as highly suspicious of the project and Lake Placid as the most receptive and eager place to photograph so far.
“Every city has its own personality and own types of businesses that want to get involved,” he said. “And, of course, their own suspicion level.”
Of the three Capital Region cities Google is visiting this month, Hilker described Schenectady as most interested in the new program.
Some businesses still aren’t aware of it, though.
Before Hilker and his team arrive, business owners must fill out a registration form at www.streetviewindoors.com and have a Google Place Page (an info box that lists an address, phone number, website and more). Once they’ve registered, Google will either verify their Place Page or help them set one up.
There is a small initial publishing fee for each participant, but the virtual tour will be hosted on Google servers indefinitely and free of charge.
Hilker said he can photograph about 10 places in a day, and his four-day stay in the Capital Region is about three-quarters booked already.
“We don’t have a problem with staying longer if the demand is there,” he said. “But we can’t stay too much longer because there’s always the next place.”
Once he moves on and the tours go live, online users will have a crystal-clear view of several dozen Capital Region businesses. So, for example, when someone searches for Mohawk Honda on Google and clicks on the accompanying map they’ll notice a linked thumbnail image labeled “See inside.” One click zooms through the front door and into the building.
The virtual tours are captured in high-definition, said Hilker.
“The quality and clarity compared to Google Street View is tremendous,” he said. “It’s super crystal clear and there are no bug splatters on our cameras.”
Google Street View launched about five years ago, providing panoramic views along many streets worldwide.
It began in large cities at first, eventually expanding onto suburban streets and rural areas.
Street View Indoors officially launched May 1 after two years of beta testing, said Hilker.
“Google was keeping it kind of secret for a while until everything was ironed out and exactly how they wanted it,” he said. “Since mid-July we’ve really done a whole international marketing campaign to make business owners aware and it’s taken off.”
Hilker has about 70 businesses lined up for the month of October, and expects more.
He still has to go into Vermont, Massachusetts and parts of Connecticut.
He pointed out that although the program is a great advertising tool for businesses, not every place will want to take advantage — like the auto repair shop that does good business without letting people see its grease pit.
The only places Google contractors won’t go into are corporate offices, said Hilker, but other than that most places qualify.
About 10,000 establishments are already featured on Google’s Street View Indoors program, and about 2,000 are being added every month.