Google deal puts Michigan tourism attractions on map

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — The state of Michigan is partnering with Google and the Pure Michigan campaign to put some of the state's most popular tourist destinations on the map.

Michigan will become the first Midwest state to use Google Trekker technology to feature 360-degree, fully navigable views of attractions like Mackinac Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which weren't previously accessible on Google Street View.

"Today with this partnership, people all over the world will have access to real scenes, over 44,000 360-degree images, that allow them to experience the trails, the walkways, the waterways of Michigan," Lt. Governor Brian Calley said during a presentation at the Pure Michigan Governor's Conference on Tourism Conference in Grand Rapids. "This opens up Michigan to the rest of the world."

The idea is for potential travelers to Michigan to check out where they could go and plan their trip accordingly. And for those who can't travel here, they can get an idea of what the state has to offer, said Calley.

The Trekker images were captured last fall and revealed at the conference. More than 44,000 panoramic photos were taken by members and volunteers on the Pure Michigan team and the Department of Natural Resources, which borrowed the Trekker and traveled for four weeks to capture some of the scenes around Michigan. It didn't cost the state anything to do because the program is by invitation only and Google loaned the equipment to the state.

Some of the images that were unveiled included a view from the top of the Mackinac Bridge, the Island Loop Route National Water Trail in St. Clair County, the State Capitol building in Lansing and the roads around Mackinac Island, where cars have been banned for 100 years.

"It's no longer about 'my hometown,' it's about the world being able to see what this beautiful camera did," said Steve Silverman, Google Maps Street View program manager.

Google Trekker was introduced by the company in 2012 as a wearable backpack with a camera system on top. The setup allows for Google Street View shots in locations that can't be driven by the Google Street View car.

"We took 300 pounds of hardware and condensed it into 40 pounds," said Silverman.

The device has 15 lenses at the top of the mast, each pointed in a different direction. The cameras take photos every 2.5 seconds, which Google stitches together later to create 360-degree views. The Trekker weighs about 40 pounds and is about the size of a large hiking backpack.

The sites in Michigan will be among other tourist destinations that have been mapped by Google Trekker including the ancient pyramids in Egypt, the Colorado River, the Taj Mahal in India, Mount Fuji in Japan and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

"We are excited to be going global with some of the incredible places that can only be experienced here in Michigan," said David West, vice president of Travel Michigan, part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. "We are always looking for innovative new ways to tell our stories to travelers, and being one of the first state tourism offices in the U.S. to partner with Google through the Trekker Loan Program elevates the work we are doing to spread the word about Pure Michigan."

Other states that have used the Trekker to map sites include Florida and Hawaii. The Colorado River and Yosemite have also been mapped with the device.

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