A new backpack-mounted camera which can be worn by walkers to capture images for Google Street View is being pioneered on Britain's canals. The Wales Coast Path could be next. Is our countryside about to get the Google treatment?
It's not exactly a lightweight piece of kit.
Google's 'Trekker' backpack weighs 18 kilograms, towers four feet in the air and makes the wearer look a bit, well, ridiculous.
But the backpack is the latest innovation in the Californian giant's apparent quest to photographically document every square inch of the planet.
It packs a 360-degree camera and takes pictures every 2.5 seconds, allowing a walker to take images which can then be uploaded to Google Street View.
The technology will enable walking routes to be captured and digitised in the same way Google Street View currently enables users to see 360-degree images of streets and roads.
It's already been used in the US to capture trails in the Grand Canyon and is being tested on the Abel Tasman track in New Zealand.
Now the technology has arrived in Britain. The UK Canal and Rivers Trust is using the equipment to digitalise Britain's historic waterways, and the Wales Coast Path could be next.
Natural Resources Wales, the Welsh government body responsible for Wales' natural environment, is planning to hold talks with Google.
A spokesperson for Natural Resources Wales said: “The Trekker would be an ideal way to showcase the unique attractions of the Wales Coast Path and we are very interested in working with Google on this exciting project.”
The 870-mile flagship path is estimated to have brought in £16 million in its first year, and planners hope the Google treatment will boost its profile even further.
Similar hopes were expressed by Wendy Hawk, partnerships manager of the Canal and River Trust. She said: “We are delighted to be the first people in the UK to get the Trekker on our backs – it’s fantastic that our 200-year old network is being given a different lease of life thanks to cutting edge, 21st Century technology.
“The footage we get will allow millions of people from all over the world to see our canals, rivers and towpaths, and will hopefully encourage some people to make a trip to see them.”
The rest of the countryside?
All of which raises the prospect of larger swathes of our countryside being captured in Google's particular form of virtual reality.
Britain has 140,000 miles worth of footpaths and vast swathes of open mountain and moorland, so it would take a while. But the speed with which Google rolled out its Street View project, enlisting volunteers armed with Google technology to do the work, puts it within the realms of possibility.
So if you see a hill walker sweating up Helvellyn with a brightly coloured, slightly sinister-looking orb protruding from their head, better smile - you're on Google camera.
What do you think of the Google Trekker technology? Amazing technology or infernal machines? Should our countryside be captured in this way? Let us know in the comments section below.