DANVILLE – Taking a virtual drive down Danville's streets is easier now, thanks to a new tool on Google.
Google launched eight new cities on its Street View feature Tuesday, including Boston; Dallas; Fort Worth, Texas; Indianapolis; Minneapolis; St. Paul, Minn.; Detroit; and Providence, R.I.
The Street View feature of Google Maps allows users to view and navigate 360-degree street-level photos of various cities, Street View product manager Stephen Mau said via e-mail Wednesday.
"We're focused on making this service available in as many cities as possible, starting first with major metropolitan areas that we believe are interesting to our users," Mau said. "We generally start collecting imagery at the metropolitan center, in this case Indianapolis, and move out from there, which explains why Danville was covered."
Google launched Street View in May, starting with the San Francisco Bay area, New York, Las Vegas, Denver and Miami. With the tool, users can virtually walk the streets of a city, check out a restaurant and zoom in on bus stops and street signs to make travel plans, according to a press release.
There are now 23 metropolitan areas with this feature.
Google used cars equipped with "imaging technology" to collect 3D geometry data, Mau said.
"Imagery available in Street View is generally between a year and six months old at the time of launch," he said.
Street View is available on many of Danville's streets. Users can choose a specific location to look at or click and drag an arrow down the city's streets to view other places.
"Street View provides users with a rich, immersive browsing experience directly in Google Maps, enabling greater understanding of a specific location or area," Mau said.
For Alderman Steve Foster, there are more benefits as well.
The Internet businessman said the tool is "quite a feature."
"It's great if you moved from a place and you wanted to see what your old house looks like," Foster said.
Danville Police Deputy Director Bob Richard lives on Vermilion Street, one of the streets included in Street View. He said the feature is a novelty that might better benefit larger cities.
"At least you know what you're looking for," Richard said. "If you're not totally familiar at all with the place you are traveling, you can get a better look. Not all houses have house numbers."
Critics complain that the photos violate privacy, but Google has a process for removing sensitive content, such as license plates or faces.
"We remove the offending image and work to restore the removed information by using the surrounding images – allowing the buildings to be viewed without the sensitive information," Mau said.
Adam Aull, Danville's geographic information systems manager, said Google's street photos pose no privacy threat.
"Because they are snapshots in time, security should not be a concern," Aull said.
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The Street View feature of Google Maps can be found at http://maps.google.com .
To find Danville, type in "Danville, Illinois" in the "Search Maps" box and click "Street View" to highlight the streets in Danville.