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April 29, 2017

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Gov't open 'street views' project to the public

TAIPEI -- Not to be outshone by Google Inc. and its mapping service that documents panorama road views, Taiwan's Transportation Ministry is touting a new system it has developed for local residents to generate their own pictures of the country's streets.

People can use an event data recorder, commonly installed in vehicles, to record any given route and upload the video to the new application system, ministry officials said Wednesday.

The user-friendly interface allows users to generate their personal street views within a short period of time, which can then be rendered and shared with others to help with road information and directions, according to ministry researcher Huang Chun-hau.

The street view files are displayed on Google Map, a service familiar to Taiwanese Internet users, for a quick search, Huang explained.

"It is an application full of potential as it offers both information and entertainment services," Huang said.

As long as users are equipped with an event data recorder, which weighs about 300 grams and costs a few thousand Taiwan dollars, they can capture all kinds of landscapes, ranging from streets to mountain trails, he said.

The application was launched last year and made available to highway maintenance offices to help them keep track of road conditions, Huang explained, and it was later seen as a potentially useful tool for the public.

Unlike Google Street View, which takes a long time to update, the ministry's "Street View Maker" application makes travel information more real-time and personal, he said.

Users simply have to move an icon to a specific spot on a map to check for photos of the areas they are interested in.

Google introduced Trekker — a wearable backpack outfitted with a camera system on top — to Taiwan last year to improve its Street View services by shooting images of scenic spots that the company's devices previously had a hard time reaching by car, trolley or bicycle.

While the Trekker project has been going smoothly in Taiwan and more hiking trails have been added to the project, it still takes at least three to four months to shoot images of a single location and to process the images, according to the U.S.-based search engine.

The ministry is mulling making its service cloud-based in the future, as is the case with Google, which means the street views could be submitted by different users and shared online without extra rendering.

That approach, however, would require constant online maintenance, and privacy concerns could be an issue, Huang said.

Until then, the Street View Maker is likely to remain a closed system, he said.

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