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Google's StreetView team has accomplished unparalleled feats of cartography the past few years just driving around the streets of major cities, taking 360-degree still pics of streets, intersections, "dead" bodies, pursuing scuba demons, monsters and a host of other Google-hazing bystanders.
The StreetView team has gotten itself in hot water more than once, collecting locations, SSIDs and snippets of data from private WiFi networks, bits of cell-phone calls and other potentially privacy-violating information.
They also offended the entire state of Germany enough that Google and Germany agreed to take a break – dropping plans for an update-the-house-pic tour of Germany that would have improved the quality of both StreetView and Google Maps.
StreetView is setting out on another Quest – this time the kind with a capital Q, the potential to be featured in history books and possibly eaten by tiny fish with very sharp teeth.
Google StreetView -- purveyor of semi-focused shots of the convenience story around the corner with just the wrong perspective to let you read the sign on the business next door, which is what you wanted anyway –has headed south for a photo tour of the Amazon River.
Well, the portion of the Amazon within Brazil, which invited it there as part of a larger-scale survey being conducted by Foundation for a Sustainable Amazon (FAS) to document the state of wildlife and the deterioration of the rainforest in the lushest part of South American jungle.
Because the narrow, bumpy streets of Brazil are a tough ride for the oversized Google van, the StreetView pics will be taken from the oversized, human-powered (not motor-driven) Google StreetView tricycles that allowed it to shoot monuments, parks and narrow streets in Europe as well.
Google pedalers will spin through the cities and countryside of Brazil, but the main focus will be floating on the Amazon and Rio Negro rivers, shooting panoramic photos the whole way from a Google trike mounted on an Amazon-travelling barge.
They will also, the Google blog announcement says, "help our partners share with the world the unique stories of its inhabitants and the beauty of this place they call home."
All of which sounds laudable and noble.
Every story I've heard of the Amazon involved things being eaten that didn't want to be eaten, by other things that would have surprised me to learn lived in a river. Sturgeon the size of a Mark Twain riverboat, for example; spiders that can catch and eat birds.
Piranha that are actually surprisingly shy and more interested in dead carcasses than live Google photographers.
StreetView has gone some pretty dicey places. Antarctica, Iran. Detroit.
In a place like the Amazon jungle, though, where everything wants to eat you if only to keep up with the peer pressure from all the other things that want to eat you, riding a tricycle seems a little exposed and defenseless, though the 360-degree camera would definitely come in handy to show survivors and the public photos of the jaguar that snuck up for a late-night snack of StreetViewer.
Sure, that's a little paranoid and city-boyish, but look what happened in Brighton, not far from London, when the StreetViewers managed to tick off a couple of seagulls (which, admittedly, are among the most aggressive animals on Earth toward humans – at least those holding french fries. Their claws and teeth are not particularly intimidating, however, compared to the deadly equipment packed 24 hours a day by every single animal that lives in the Amazon.
I guess the Googlers can always hope it's just another StreetView photobomb, with really big claws and a smile for the camera that shows a few teeth too many.