Politics 8 June 2012 Google Street View is the most audacious data-gathering project ever Print HTML Google Street View is an extraordinarily expensive project for a company which normally deals with razor-slim margins. It involves building customised cars, shipping them all over the world, and then hiring drivers to patrol the roads for hours on end. The eventual plan is to map every street they can (and they mean every - Jon Rafman's 9-eyes is a wonderful collection of weirder pictures taken), an extraordinary project which certainly goes far beyond what makes economic sense. While Street View images of, for example, London's Oxford Street are likely to be regularly checked and probably easily monetiseable, it's hard to imagine what use images of Manitoba, Canada's highway 39 are, beyond bragging rights for the company. But Adrian Holovaty suggests one reason why Google may have wanted to carry the project to its conclusion: it's nascent driverless car project. Holovaty writes: Now, I’m realizing the biggest Street View data coup of all: those vehicles are gathering the ultimate training set for driverless cars. I’m sure this is obvious to people who have followed it more closely, but the realization has really blown my mind. With the goal of photographing and mapping every street in the world, Street View cars must encounter every possible road situation, sort of by definition. The more situations the driverless car knows about, the better the training data, the better the machine-learning algorithms can perform, the more likely it is that the driverless car will work. Brilliant. Google is, first and foremost, a company build around data-wrangling. Most of the data they get is provided by their users, but some, like the Street View corpus, they have to go out and get. And if they do, it's worth their while to work out as many ways of using that data as possible. The real question is whether they realised once they had all the information that they could use it to teach computers how to drive, or if this has been their cunning plan all along. Thanks to Robin Sloan for the pointer. A view from a Street View car, via 9-eyes.com › "The Syrian people are bleeding": leaders condemn massacre Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter. Subscribe More Related articles Unravelling the mystery of graphene, the “wonder material” invisible to the naked eye “They pay me in Bitcoin”: What it’s like to work as an escort in the digital age Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?