Chris Officer carries a Google street view camera as he walks recording St George Island beach in the Florida Panhandle (AP Photo/Visit Florida, Colin Hackley)
GREGG MATTHEWS FANCIES himself a lumbering Star Wars character of sorts as he treks along a popular Florida beach.
He wears stout hiking sandals on the squishy sand and uses ski poles for balance as he shoulders a 40-pound backpack, a blue-orb with 15 cameras extending over his head.
Matthews and his trekking partner, Chris Officer, are contracted through Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency, to gather images for Google Maps.
All told, they have already walked more than 200 miles of Florida beachfront, each logging up to 7.5 miles a day with the camera orb. Each camera on the orb takes a shot every 2.5 seconds as they walk.
Their quest: to create panoramic views to place online of every Florida beach – similar to the internet giant’s Street View – which has taken photos of everything from ordinary homes and businesses to world-famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State building.
Gregg Matthews carries a Google street view camera as he walks recording St George Island sand dunes in the Florida Panhandle. (AP Photo/Visit Florida, Colin Hackley)
Visit Florida has partnered with Google in the effort to map all 825 miles of Florida’s beaches. And for good reason: tourism is Florida’s top industry, accounting for 91.4 million visitors last year and $71.8 billion (€59 billion) in spending that employed more than one million in the state.
The project began in late July when Matthews and Officer began walking from the Alabama-Florida border. After mapping Florida Panhandle beaches, they will hopscotch over to Florida’s Atlantic coast and move south.
Eventually, another camera team will take over, curling past Miami’s South Beach and other hotspots aiming to finish the project sometime in November.
Google has a similar project with mappers trekking the trails of the Grand Canyon. But the Florida project is the first large-scale beach mapping project.
The mappers are paid a straight fee of $27 (€20) per mile, but no expenses with the walkers covering all of their own transportation and accommodations. The only money Google will pay is $1,000 (€750) at the end to buy images from the state.
(AP Photo/Visit Florida, Colin Hackley)
For Matthews, $27 a mile is worth it. And he’s even shed 15 pounds in the first three weeks alone.
“It is enough to cover expenses but mostly it is fun and probably cheaper than a gym for me,” Matthews told inquisitive sunbathers as he passed them on his Panama City Beach walk.
The men trade off carrying the camera pack – usually, one will take the morning shift and the other the afternoon. Their heft includes a battery pack that provides up to six hours of power for the cameras.
Pictures, once taken, are uploaded to camera hard drives. When the photos are eventually posted — probably next spring — online viewers will be able to see panoramic images from any spot the teams walked.
“It is pretty ground breaking. It is really cool to know that our work is going to contribute to people being able to see different beaches all over the world,” Officer said.
Though both are tanned – not burned – they wear hats and protective gear against the blistering sun.
“You look hot in all that,” a young girl splashing in the surf told Matthews as he walked past on Panama City Beach. “Yes, that’s why I get in the water a lot. It helps,” he responded.